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Racial diversity benefits schools

The Tuning Fork

A commentary entitled “Move toward colorblind society,” published in The Daily Targum on Monday made the bizarre claim that affirmative action has a negative effect on the American educational policy and that racial affiliation — i.e. identifying yourself at least partially by your race — prevents national harmony or at least creates some form of social discord. The idea of “[regarding] race as a superficial characteristic akin to hair color or height” is a noble goal in theory, but it undeniably bears the stamp of the “white man’s burden.” It is easy for those in the normative white race to dismiss race as an arbitrary, differentiating characteristic in society. However, the assertion that the author makes directly contradicts the right that all have to identify with a people, a shared history and an ongoing fight against social, legislative and systemic discrimination.

This assertion that a society should exist where race is an unimportant characteristic is foolish and assumptive on multiple accounts. Most importantly, it negates a sense of identity accomplished by years of civil discourse, non-violent activism and discrimination by a seemingly uncaring government. For many in dire situations, the sense of belonging to a continued struggle in a fight for equality is all they have. Skirting the issues of plausibility and identity, avoiding the question of race, would make it impossible for a level playing field to exist. Only in a society where racial issues can be maturely talked about can race become less of an issue.

To start, affirmative action is undoubtedly a positive aspect of the college selection process, although the effects are not precise when tangibly measured. The legislation to pass what we now call affirmative action took place 50 years ago, and only after a 10-year experiment by California’s school system affirmed that the effects of desegregation in academic settings had a positive influence on students, staff and overall atmosphere. In 1961, when President John F. Kennedy signed the bill into effect at the height of the Civil Rights Movement, it was uncommon for schools to encourage desegregation, let alone much tolerance for difference. Although students were a large part of the movement, the administrators of most schools were against desegregating and were thus biased against people of color. While the University was, for some time, a school populated only by white men, it is now a thriving melting pot for people of all creeds, races, colors and other “differentiating” factors.

Ignoring the documented positives of sporting a diverse campus, affirmative action is not an action carried out solely on basis of race. According to the letter of the law, affirmative action is there to prevent discrimination on bases of race, color, religion, sex or national origin. In 1978, the Supreme Court determined in Bakke v. Regents that there could also be no quota set in place in public universities for monitoring diversity. This includes attempting to maintain a certain percentage of any race, religion, sex, religion, etc. To assert that schools take racial quantity into consideration when going through the application process is folly and borderline yellow journalism.

Beyond the faults in this logic, and even if — hypothetically — there were quotas in place, affirmative action would be a net positive for American society. Every time a student from an otherwise disenfranchised group is offered an opportunity to study at a university, the positives are immeasurable. Not only do the graduates serve as positive role models within their respective fields of study for children from similar backgrounds, but affirmative action is essentially an investment in the future of racial equality. Make no mistake, there are probably still flaws with the general way it is applied and interpreted by public universities and employers. May it possibly exclude some otherwise acceptable students? Yes, but this immediately raises an issue of student entitlement. While a student may be eligible for entry into a university, it does not necessarily guarantee them entry.

Despite its flaws, affirmative action still has an undoubtedly positive impact on the way Americans study and work. It encourages racial equality in the long run and is assuredly an investment into a future where Americans of all races, religions, sexes and colors can interact on a level playing field. While it is ideal for a raceless society to exist, it is unlikely to happen so long as differing races, nationalities, religions and sexes exist. We can all stand to learn something from peoples of different cultures and experiences while we’re here, and there’s nothing wrong with laws ensuring that we all get that experience. After all, what kind of good ice cream shop would only have vanilla?

Cody Gorman is a School of Arts and Sciences senior majoring in political science and Middle Eastern studies with a minor in history. His column, “The Tuning Fork,” runs on alternate Wednesdays.


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