Race Not a Competition

The economic and social mobility of minorities in the United States has, over the years, been consistently compromised by a system that favors white Americans. Though pioneering individuals such as Martin Luther King, and landmark events like the 1954 Brown v Board of Education ruling, have changed the way race is viewed and handled in this country, institutionalized racism continues to plague minorities. When President Bush announced two weeks ago that he opposed the University of Michigan’s admissions policy, the highly controversial topic of affirmative action once again came under intense scrutiny by people of all political, social and racial backgrounds. By asking the Supreme Court to review the 1978 Bakke case that deemed constitutional the use of race as a “factor” in college admissions, Bush re-ignited a long-standing debate between affirmative action advocates and critics. Supporters argue that race should be considered in order to increase diversity on campuses and to encourage opportunities for higher education among typically disadvantaged groups (i.e. Blacks, Hispanics, Native Americans). Opponents claim that affirmative action policies set the groundwork for quotas and may prevent a student who is better qualified than a minority counterpart from being accepted to his/her school of choice because he/she is white. Both sides make compelling arguments, but the importance of affirmative action in higher education cannot be denied if this nation expects to progress in the realm of social justice. According to a report by the U.S. Census Bureau, poverty in the United States in 2001 included almost one in every four African Americans. This 25% lives in economic conditions defined as poverty. Hispanic Americans are similarly disadvantaged in terms of economics; according to the report, 21.4 percent live in poverty. These numbers are in sharp contrast with the poverty rate for white Americans, found to be 7.8 percent by the U.S. Census Bureau report. This economic disparity between minorities and whites in the U.S. creates a sharp division of opportunity in terms of higher education. It is widely recognized that primary and secondary schools in poor areas tend to lack the resources necessary to deliver quality education to students. According to a study recently conducted by the Gannet News Service in Washington, D.C., over 50 percent of minority students in the U.S. are taught key subjects like math and English by teachers who lack proper certification and in some cases, college degrees. This lack of access to adequate education often leads to lower grades, less proficient writing skills and poor SAT scores, making it difficult for many minorities to compete with more affluent, predominantly white college applicants. Those individuals who do perform well academically are still disadvantaged by their lack of exposure to quality teachers, as well as a social context that includes other college-bound students. In order to alleviate this rift and make college campuses more diverse in terms of race and class, affirmative action policies are, to different degrees, used by many schools throughout the U.S. By questioning the constitutionality of race in the admissions process, claiming that it inappropriately favors minorities in some instances, President Bush neglects the fact that the chance to go to college is less of a reality for African Americans and Hispanics than it is for whites. If considering race means furthering democracy and equality in this country, than it should be not an option, but a standard policy built on the fact that upward mobility is possible when encouraged. Why is it justifiable to consider an applicant’s relationship to an alumnus but not their racial makeup? Rather than perpetuating racial divisions by pretending they do not exist, we must be progressive and forthright in efforts to diversify, creating a sense of opportunity among underrepresented minorities and encouraging social and economic advancement for all people. The Supreme Court should recognize this obligation and maintain that the consideration of race in the admissions process is not only constitutional, but appropriate and justified.