It’s easy to critique the value of affirmative action in college admissions from a place of privilege.
I am an upper middle class white woman from Wisconsin. I had access to gifted and talented curriculum in elementary school and International Baccalaureate college preparatory courses in high school. I lived with my stable and supportive nuclear family. There was never any question that I would attend college. I have benefited from the long-ingrained system of white privilege my entire life: Few obstacles have been placed in my way.
But I’m still among the largest beneficiaries of affirmative action measures.
The irony cannot be lost that the recent landmark case on affirmative action in higher education, Fisher v. University of Texas, came after a woman claimed she had been denied admission to the university because she is white. But white women in particular have disproportionately benefited from affirmative action. Nearly 50 years after President Lyndon Johnson included women in anti-workplace discrimination legislation, one study found some 6 million women, many of them white, wouldn’t have had the jobs they did without affirmative action in place.
It’s not at all uncommon for white people with similar shared experiences to make claims about our so-called post-racial society or to recycle threadbare claims about how considering race along with a student’s broader college application materials means undeserving minority students are taking coveted spots away from more qualified white students. The argument has been made countless times on our pages, freshman year political science papers and, most recently, by two writers over at the Daily Cardinal. But arguments about taking race out of the equation entirely, which proponents charge is a critical step toward real equality, threaten to whitewash the broad host of experiences and backgrounds that have shaped who each of us has become — the kinds of diversity any institution of higher education should champion.
The University of Wisconsin System’s holistic admissions process, a “race-conscious” program that weighs race among a wide range of intangibles including academic, socioeconomic and personality factors, has long been a lighting rod for anti-affirmative action crusaders. The most recent feeble attack comes from a group called Project on Fair Representation, a national group that has tailored its general scare tactic approach to UW, Harvard University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The organization is the same foundation that provided Fisher’s pro bono legal defense in the Supreme Court.
UW Not Fair — aptly named to sound like a shrieking toddler slamming his fists on a high chair after not getting his way — is calling on the university to eliminate any consideration of race in its admissions process. Their site features a menacing tagline: “Were you denied admission to the University of Wisconsin-Madison? It may be because you’re the wrong race.” The homepage also prominently features a woman of ostensibly Asian decent in an apparent attempt to underwrite the idea that their crusade is about equality for all, not just white kids with sluggish GPAs.
But for all the fury of hurling race-baiting rhetoric at the university – enough to warrant a response from the provost – there’s been little accompanying sound. The group’s Facebook page had only garnered 11 likes by Sunday night. It’s a stark contrast to the last time a national effort rolled through town with a similar message in 2011, when the conservative think tank Center for Equal Opportunity condemned UW’s admissions policies as the embodiment of “reverse discrimination” in two studies. That group spurred an Assembly committee inquiry into the policies and mobilized hundreds of students, who spoke out in campus-wide forums and protests. Instead of bringing out privileged students crying racism, both recent campaigns have served to remind campus just how critical these holistic admissions policies are on our campus.
Rather than cutting race out of the process, we need to bring discussions of diversity on campus to the forefront. Even with affirmative action policies in place, UW has a pretty pathetic track record for diversity. Of the 29,504 undergraduates who attended UW this academic year, 22,757 of them are white. For a campus that touts socially progressive values, we currently enroll fewer Black and American Indian students than we did in 2004.
Now is not the time to push racial issues out of sight and out of mind.
Katherine Krueger ([email protected]) is a senior majoring in journalism and political science.