The Collegian
Friday, June 21, 2024

Why Affirmative Action Matters: My response to The Collegian’s instagram post

<p>Graphic by Annie Scalet/The Collegian</p>

Graphic by Annie Scalet/The Collegian

I deeply love UR. This love for the university and the subsequent community is why I am compelled to offer a more formal response to The Collegian 's call for responses to the U.S. Supreme Court's decision regarding the consideration of race in admission. More specifically, I am writing to refute many baseless claims that were publicized by  The Collegian 's Instagram post. 

Since graduating in May 2021, I have been involved with the University of Richmond Black Alumni Network, returned for two homecoming celebrations, attended summer reunions, passively advised student leaders and maintained meaningful relationships with staff, faculty and administrators. Moreover, despite my criticisms of how certain things function at UR, I can appreciate the meaningfulness of my undergraduate student experience.  

While at UR, I was a resident assistant, a communications associate for the School of Arts & Sciences, a campus tour guide, a peer writing fellow and a laundry attendant for the athletics department. I worked diligently to improve the campus community as a member of the Richmond College Student Government Association, and I had the honor and pleasure of serving as a member of multiple university committees. Richmond College and Westhampton College recognized my commitment to making UR a better space for all. As a Black, first-generation alumnus of UR, I know that I am—in implicit and explicit ways—a recipient of the benefits that have emerged from contemporary affirmative action practices. However, race should not be misconstrued as the only reason non-white students were admitted to UR. I found it comical that one campus community member attempted to improperly use commentary from Martin Luther King, Jr. to justify this point. 

First, Martin Luther King, Jr.'s entire movement centered on creating equal access and opportunity for Black people. The entire mission of his work was hinged explicitly on differences that were quantifiable based on race. So, removing race from this conversation and the broader conversation about racial equality and equity in the United States is a dangerously colorblind approach to actionable change. 

More practically, the commentator's perspective ignores critical components of what is known as a holistic admission process. Since the Bakke ruling, no college that receives federal funding has placed sole importance on race or the boxes that a student checks on a college application. Race-based quotas have been illegal since the late 1970s. Since the Grutter ruling, no school has been allowed to weigh race more heavily than other factors. This perspective that students of color are only admitted because of their race is a fallacy that waters down the rigor and prestige of our beloved institution and the rich experiences that students of color have. 

Data that UR sends to the federal government clarifies that other factors are more critical to admission than race or ethnicity. The two most essential admission factors are academic: the rigor of secondary school courses and GPA. Next in line are class rank, standardized test scores, essays, recommendations, extracurricular activities, talent/ability and personal qualities. So, even though my race was considered part of a holistic review of my application, it alone was not the feature that got me admitted.  

After working in the admissions office at UR, I know that I was admitted because I succeeded in five dual enrollment courses during high school. I know that I was admitted because of how involved I was with national organizations such as Future Farmers of America and Future Business Leaders of America.  I know I was admitted to UR because of my impact on my hometown community. Although I was not a valedictorian, my 3.8 GPA, higher-than-average test scores and enrollment in two Advanced Placement courses proved that I could handle the rigor of academic coursework at UR. My race likely played a minor role in my admittance. However, contrary to the beliefs expressed by a member of the community on instagram,I too possessed the “knowledge, merit, and ability to complete coursework and excel at the school.”  These factors and race are not mutually exclusive. 

Nevertheless, without considering race, UR may have missed out on an opportunity to accept and enroll outstanding, well-qualified students of color—a population of students that is now highly desired. . At UR, 39% of students  have a marginalized racial or ethnic identity . Without the ability to directly consider race, I am very concerned that the racial composition of the study body will be reduced. You should be too! 

From a moral perspective, leaders at UR must redress the historical wrongs that have played out since its opening. This perspective is half in part what changing the names of buildings, creating naming principles and establishing new structures and processes were about. The other half was related to creating a thriving and inclusive campus community, in accordance with former UR President Ronald Crutcher’s strategic plan. Considering race in admission has also played a significant role in attempting to rectify these troubling legacies. Therefore, the consideration of race (in small parts) has allowed admission officers at UR to admit the relatively small population of students of color that currently calls this place home. There are historical limitations to this practice of racial inclusion; however, in the grand scheme of things, UR’s enrollment of students with marginalized identities has increased over the past decade. The question now is how leaders intend to maintain or increase this number of students with marginalized identities. 

To this point, some commentators from instagram mentioned ideas that oscillate around stronger considerations of income as an alternative to considerations of race. Generating greater access for low-income students aligns with UR’s historical strategic plans (e.g., The Richmond Promise, Forging our Future, Building from Strength, Making Excellence Inclusive)  and the current strategic plan, A Plan for Richmond.  

At face value, considerations of income are worthwhile; however, in practice, the consideration of income does not yield the same benefits that emerge from considerations of race. With America’s social/economic policies and practices in mind, there are millions of low-income white students. Millions of low-income students are not white. However, there is no way to distinguish race or ethnicity among students when considering income. In practice, many of us live within the low to middle-income boundary. Therefore, consideration of social economic status cannot guarantee racial or ethnic diversity.

When we consider how power and privilege operate in this country, white people and students will undoubtedly maintain greater access to elite spaces such as UR. This maintaining of the status quo is a moral fallacy. This moral fallacy is exacerbated by leaders such as supreme court justices and higher education leaders who pay little attention to how power and prestige have historically been afforded to white people.

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This commitment to advancing white privilege is evident in the nuances apparent in the Supreme Court's majority opinion. For instance, what does it mean that race can now only be directly considered at military academies? Are students with underrepresented identities only allowed access to institutions that prepare them to sacrifice their Black and Brown lives for the more significant majority of White lives? The court's perspective misses critical points that are the foundation of the #BlackLivesMatter movement.

Additionally, because the majority opinion says nothing about other forms of preferential treatment in college admissions, are we to believe that factors such as athleticism, relation to donors, legacy status and relation to prominent university employees are suitable ways to admit students? Eliminating direct consideration of race in admission is also directly applicable to these practices because we know that white students are the primary beneficiaries of these policies and practices. 

In the comments that The Collegian  published, one student, presumably white, acknowledged how they would benefit from the recent ruling to restrict the use of race in admission further. I appreciated the student's acknowledgment that white students are conscious of systems of oppression. Nevertheless, we need more than one white person to join the fight. I argue that we need more white students, staff, faculty, administrators and alumni to realize this. Collectively, we are not fighting against white people. We are fighting against the systems of oppression that categorize whiteness as more important, more valuable than anything else. In a campus community that pledges to support students with underrepresented identities, defeating these systems is work in which we all should take an active role. So as my frustration about the Supreme Court’s ruling bubbles up through this reflection, it is my ardent hope that students, staff, faculty, administrators and alumni come together to develop reasonable workarounds for admission that continue to move forward UR’s commitment to creating an inclusive and thriving community that values racial inclusivity and equity, diversity and educational opportunity as well as ethical engagement. 

Without sacrificing academic excellence, we must collaborate across shared governance systems to build a web that welcomes and celebrates non-white students. Current priorities, such as well-being, access, affordability, belonging and community, hinge on our ability to radically and legally innovate how students with underrepresented racial identities matriculate to UR. 

Given the limitations of the contemporary legal precedent, this will be a challenging task. However, based on more recent changes that have been celebrated within the campus community, I know that this legal precedent is not something that has to doom our beloved campus community. Now is the time to unite and continue our fight for access, support and student success. 

Contact contributor Will Walker at will.walker@richmond.edu.

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