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The Solution to the Affirmative Action Dilemma


A recent New York Times article, If Affirmative Action Ends, College Admissions May Be Changed Forever, features photos of my alma mater, Wesleyan University. The one above of Dr. King speaking there is from 1964. I was four years old and had just recently arrived in this country from Costa Rica when that photo was taken and when Wesleyan started recruiting black-racialized students. In 1978, I was a black-racialized student who gained admission to Wesleyan. There is no doubt that my qualifications included my racial classification.


As the Times article notes, it's no longer OK to use race as an admissions factor the way Wesleyan and other schools used to - and it seems likely that pretty soon it won't be OK to use race as a proxy in admissions processes at all.


The Times article also notes that "Recent polls suggest that most people believe colleges should not consider race or ethnicity in admissions decisions."


I am among those who have long believed that race should not be considered in admissions decisions.


Before you expend too much thought and consternation over that statement from someone who has absolutely benefited from affirmative action in life-altering ways, let me make it clear that it's not the aims of affirmative action that I'm against, it's the tenacious attachment to the misguided method by which it has been conducted.


The problem with basing affirmative action on race, in a nutshell, is that (1) there's no such thing as race (2) essentializing racial identity in ways that lead to assumptions about what must be true about a person based on their supposed race is, well, racist, and (3) race is not something you are, race is something that happens to you. It's a set of circumstances driven by racialization, the process by which race and racism were/are produced.


I've written and spoken and created videos on the need to transition from the use of race as a valid or valuable way to think about human differences. I won't go into further detail here. Instead, casting humility to the wind, I want to provide the solution to the affirmative action dilemma.


Yes, I just said that. Enough hand-wringing about what's going to happen to diversity on college campuses if we can't continue to practice affirmative action using race as a factor. By imagining a world in which the false and racism-reinforcing notion of race is replaced with an understanding of racialization as the root cause of race-based problems, we can think our way beyond the flaws of affirmative action as it has been practiced and arrive at a way of conducting college admissons that achieves diversity without divisiveness.


Please imagine a university called Egality. Here is its statement on its approach to race as a factor in admissions processes. Because Egality University does not exist, I can't offer you an Egality U sweatshirt but I can offer Egality's real solution to the problem of how we've been approaching affirmative action.

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Egality University’s Approach to Race in Admission Processes Egality University recognizes the effects of social bias on safety, health, opportunity, and resources. Those who benefit from at least adequate amounts of these necessities tend to fare better than those who are disadvantaged. In order to avoid perpetuating practices that inequitably favor those whose abilities have been nurtured in ways that result in outcomes that suggest they are better qualified than those who did not live in circumstances that fostered the flourishing of their abilities, Egality U. invites applicants to self-assess how their social identities have been associated with demonstrated patterns of social bias, and how they have faced unearned privilege or unfair disadvantage in their lives (particularly but not limited to their academic pursuits). By doing so, Egality U. will be able to create a diverse population of scholars who are optimally prepared to be self-aware, resilient, and successful. Regarding the construct of race, consistent with scientific evidence, Egality U. rejects the notion that individuals can or should be classified as members of “races.” We seek to correct the false belief in human races while recognizing the real effects of that belief. Instead of reifying the false and pernicious notion of race by using it as a proxy for qualification (or anything else)can, Egality U. recognizes racialization (the process of selecting superficial markers, sorting people into races accordingly, attributing capacities and qualities to races, essentializing those differences, and acting as if these differences justify unequal treatment) as the proper focus in admissions selection processes. Egality U. recognizes that the legacy of a racialized society along with continued racist practices on the micro (interpersonal), mezzo (intergroup), and macro (structural and systemic) levels create significant challenges to those who are adversely racialized (to contend with the adversity they face) as well as those who have been advantageously racialized (to recognize their privilege and work against racialization). Therefore, along with seeking to learn about how applicants have faced and overcome adversity of any kind (e.g., learning challenges, illness, or issues related to class, sex, gender, religion, or ability, etc.), we are interested to know how applicants have navigated our racialized world in ways that demonstrate their readiness to be respectful, responsible, and inclusive scholars and community members at Egality University.

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