Diversity Still Matters

diversityThe Supreme Court has just unofficially dipped out of their quagmire over diversity. The Court was in a position to decide the future of affirmative action policies affecting millions of Americans who are either applying to college or looking for jobs. Thankfully, the high court justices, one of whom is very conservative, reaffirmed "race-conscious" admissions policies.

Most importantly, the 5-4 majority supporting the University of Michigan Law School's affirmative action policies will be just enough to keep affirmative action alive. The court agreed that "narrowly tailored" racial preferences were constitutional for the purposes of increasing the diversity of a college or university campus.

However, in a 6-3 vote, the court struck down the undergraduate school's point system which gave underrepresented minorities "bonus points" solely because of their race or ethnicity. The court said that the point system was unfair, and discriminated against Asians, Arabs, and Whites.

I honestly couldn't be any happier with the outcome. While the "indirect quota system" or point system was abolished, the Supreme Court determined that race can still be a factor in college admissions. This means nothing more than allowing race to remain as one of the many factors that colleges can consider in admissions. For many affirmative action supporters, this victory means that over the next twenty-five years, colleges and universities may well become more integrated places of learning.

The two cases that were heard in front of the Supreme Court included Grutter v. Bollinger et al. and Gratz et al. v. Bollinger et al. In both cases, the main plaintiffs -- the people who brought the lawsuit to court -- were white women who sued the president of the University of Michigan Law School and the University of Michigan undergraduate college, respectfully. Jennifer Gratz and Barbara Grutter believed that they were rejected from the Michigan college and Law School because underrepresented minorities were given "bonus points" or preferential treatment in admissions. They argued that the U.S. Constitution requires that all citizens be given equal protection under the law.

Diversity Exonerated

Finally, the courts have come to understand the grave importance of diversity. I once was one of those anti-affirmative action black people who saw preferences as an insult to my intellect or abilities, but I have come to understand the realities of racial inequality in America. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg declared that affirmative action is still important in our country because, "Unemployment, poverty and access to health care vary disproportionately by race. African-American and Hispanic children are all too often educated in poverty-stricken and under-performing institutions."

I have changed my mind not because the policy may help me get into college or get a job, but because I have asked myself Machiavellian questions like: Does the end justify the means? Is it justice if the outcomes of this decision hurt a few now, but benefit all in the end? In the case of affirmative action, the answer is yes. Affirmative action aims to level an unfair playing field and opens doors that secondary schools didn't open for disadvantaged students. Diversity is so important and vital to education and to the mission of schools that it is worth giving limited preferences to certain minority groups who enrich the learning environment -- especially in history, politics, law and ethnic studies classes.

Justice Sandra Day O' Conner, writing for the court's majority, concluded that diversity was a "compelling state interest" and perhaps vital to the "heart of the Law school's proper institutional mission." It has already been proven by scholars, intellectuals, and professionals that racially and ethnically diverse student bodies yield significant benefits for all students regardless of racial or ethnic background. Racial and ethnic diversity force students and professionals to learn and understand the experiences and perspectives of the many different people who make up our nation's population.

In such a progressive society, it is important to encourage interracial interactions and acceptance amidst cultural differences. I also believe that public schools have a responsibility to educate everyone and to have people of all backgrounds represented on campuses across the country. In such a diverse and multiracial society, it is only fair that every racial and ethnic group be given the same educational opportunities that are available to the American public.

Racial Preferences and You

You may be asking, "So, how does this policy directly affect me?" For people of all races and ethnic backgrounds, not much will change. Most universities and colleges already give some sort of consideration to applicants' racial or ethnic background in the selection process. However, some changes may be made to control the degree of preference given to underrepresented minorities.

At the University of Michigan undergraduate college, there was a point system in which each applicant had to earn over 100 points out of a possible 150 to be admitted. For example, an applicant belonging to an underrepresented racial or ethnic group or a lower socioeconomic class was automatically given 20 points out of a possible 150 points. The point system has been eradicated. But for the sake of diveristy, underrepresented minorities (Black Americans, Native Americans and Hispanic Americans) will still get somewhat of an "edge" in admissions.

A huge misconception about racial preferences is the concept that a lot of Asians, whites, and Arabs with superior grades will be rejected at the cost of diversity. Understand that in college admissions, grades are only one of the many variables that are factored into the selection process. No one is guaranteed a seat based solely on their GPA, and no one is admitted with total disregard to their academic record. Even at the University of Michigan there were several non-minority students with lower grades accepted over other non-minority students with great scores and GPAs.

In the great affirmative action book, The Shape of the River, ivy-league scholars Bowen and Bok explored the phenomena of admissions rates at elite schools. According to the authors, the average admissions rate for whites is 25 percent at selective schools. According to research, getting rid of affirmative action would only raise the white acceptance rate to about 27 percent overall at elite schools. In the end, affirmative action doesn't make much of an impact on non-minorities in admissions.

These affirmative action cases might have not been the landmark civil rights decisions everybody was hoping for, meaning that in many ways they simply uphold the affirmative action status quo as determined by the University of California regents v. Bakke case (1978), in which the U.S. Supreme Court ruled for affirmative action but against racial or ethnic quotas. At the same time, the latest Supreme Court rulings will have absolutely no effect on the admissions policies for public universities in states that already regard extra consideration for an applicant's racial or ethnic background as "illegal" -- such as Texas, Florida and California.

Affirmative action remains one of the nation's most controversial issues in the last quarter of a century. The debate will continue to divide politicians, intellectuals, students and professors at the nation's highest levels. I hope that in twenty-five years race won't be such a defining factor when it comes to disparities in education, healthcare and socioeconomic class. If we continue to prioritize diversity, cross-cultural communication and interracial relations, perhaps we will someday evolve into a society that truly allows "liberty and justice for all."

Candace Coleman, 17, is a student at Marymount High School in Los Angeles.
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