Campus diversity is key

I think that last week’s Record opinion about diversity and race was needed. It is important that as Williams students we have an open forum to express our thoughts and concerns on issues near to us. So often, it is easy to complain about the Purple Bubble and the isolation that ensues from the world around us, yet the issue at hand is one where this tenet does not hold. Whether we ignore or overlook it, the issue of affirmative action and the score of issues that stem from its discussion affect us deeply. It is in this vein that I write this article, to express a few opinions with the hope that the sentiments shared may invoke further discussion.

I almost agreed with the article’s point about race-based classifications from last week’s piece on diversity. It is wrong that race-based classifications in education or employment are still needed. I think it would be fair to say that if we lived in a hypothetical society that did not have a terminal history with issues of discrimination, class and prejudice based solely on race, that it would not take the institutionalization of action to correct for this. But that is not the case. This is the realm in which affirmative action policies were created – recognizing current inequalities, no matter when their starting point and creating opportunities to produce solutions to face said inequalities.

Some would say that affirmative action is uncalled for because it perpetuates discrimination. They would say that discrimination should not be corrected by more discrimination. It is not the fault of some people if they just so happened to be more prepared for a test or job than someone else. Let us look at the SAT as our example. Now, if we lived in a true meritocracy where students, no matter their racial, social or gendered background, could go to similar schools with comparable standards, the scores of the SAT’s would accurately display the hard work of a student scoring a 1400 versus another student scoring a 1600. Since everyone would agree that our educational system is not regulated as such and produces varied students from assorted backgrounds and preparation, the scores of the students, instead of being the only factor in the decision making process, must become one of many. The way affirmative action could work in the college admissions process would be to recognize that an impoverished Native American student along with the preppy white student, along with their test scores, both bring different experiences to a college. Here, race and class for that matter would not be central but each would serve as one factor that, if ignored, would not allow for the most informed decision to be made.

Diversity can have a broad definition but we must not ignore one of those critical areas – race. The Williams experience for a man, I would assume, would be different for a female. There is nothing inherently wrong with this statement and it is a true assumption. The same can be said about people from different racial backgrounds. The point is that affirmative action recognizes that race is a part, and not the only form, of diversity. If it were not an active part of the criteria for diversity and let us take gender and class into account as well, an incoming class of Williams students could be people from varied backgrounds but reminiscent of the first class of students when Williams was founded in 1793: all male, all of one race and one economic background. This would be a step backwards based on the College’s current class make- up and serves as another reason that affirmative action, making use of race as a proxy, along with class, would allow for the most far-reaching diversity possible.

I again agree with last week’s piece, in that skin color does not determine the character of an individual. Again, we would be remiss if we did not acknowledge that while race and culture and class are different they can also be intertwined. The racial background of individuals can have a direct effect as to how they see themselves, how others view them or the experiences they have had in the world. This has a much farther-reaching impact than one’s height, hair color or eye color, which are all arbitrary when compared to the influencing of experiences of race and class. Again, we cannot neglect our history where such issues of race were legally used to discriminate against people. While this is not the case now, it must be recognized that citing race as a similar factor to height or eye color is preposterous and that the former carries more importance than the latter.

In closing the only way that I can see affirmative action as harmful to any group is if it were ended. For those that do not know: affirmative action works. Progress has been made in the backgrounds of students in the college admissions progress since the policy’s inception. Even though there has been some progress, this does not mean that the program needs to end. If inequalities are found, we must remember that affirmative action was meant to be a temporary solution.

We must not take the naive way out and call for an abrupt end to this program. We must challenge ourselves to continue to address the larger issues that affirmative action highlights: combating a system of privilege, the need to correct and normalize our public education system, the ability for people from varied class and racial backgrounds to attend institutions such as Williams and be free from the burden of representation. Only when we engage ourselves in these larger issues will we reach a point where we can begin the conversation of dismantling affirmative action. Until such a time, affirmative action needs to continue and increase in scope so that progress can continue to occur.

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