News and views from the award-winning author of the Class H Trilogy: AMERICA LIBRE, HOUSE DIVIDED and PANCHO LAND

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Minorities: On campuses or on the barricades?

In October of this year, the Supreme Court will hear Fisher vs. University of Texas, a case that may prompt the court to rule on the constitutionality of affirmative action in higher education. Given the court's current makeup, many are projecting affirmative action will be overturned.

If the Supreme Court wants to end preferential treatment in college admissions, then it should start by requiring universities end legacy preferences in admissions for the children of well-heeled alumni. This inequity has been going on for a lot longer than affirmative action. Of course ending legacy preferences will never happen. These wealthy former students contribute huge sums to their alma maters. Need I add that the overwhelming majority of legacy students are Non-Hispanic Whites?

Meanwhile, the median wealth of Non-Hispanic White households is 20 times that of Black households and 18 times that of Hispanic households according to a Pew Research Center 2009 report. This fact alone is a clear indication that inequality is unfortunately alive and well. Coupled with the well established connection between household income and a student’s SAT score, it is exceedingly apparent that Non-Hispanic White students have a considerable advantage over students from disadvantaged minorities when it comes to college admissions. But the reasons for having a diverse student body go beyond fairness.

By their very backgrounds, minority students bring a different and much needed perspective to the academic environment. Need proof ? Just consider the arguments for and against this very issue. On the whole, minorities see affirmative action as worthwhile and necessary. Opposition to affirmative action comes primarily from Non-Hispanic Whites.

What happens when a generation of intelligent, motivated young people find themselves marginalized and their potential stunted by societal forces? A look around the world – and at history – indicates that a very likely outcome is social upheaval including protests, rioting and even open rebellion. For proof, one only need look at last year’s Arab Spring, the recent riots in England and France, China’s democracy movement culminating in Tiananmen Square, theoverthrow of the Shah of Iran, and Castro’s revolution in Cuba. In all of these rebellions and many others, disillusioned young people have the spark and fuel for turmoil.

It is a conceit of the privileged to think they are impartial about deciding “merit.” Universities in the U.S. need the voices of the disadvantaged. If we choose to lock these often dissenting voices out our campuses, we may someday hear them from barricades on the street.

Raul Ramos y Sanchez