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CMC, Please Discriminate Against White People

March 31, 2009

by Charlie Sprague
CMC, Please Discriminate Against White People

CMC recently announced its admissions decisions, so the affirmative action debate is likely to reemerge on campus as it always does during this time of year. Therefore, I want to clarify some issues in this debate and present my arguments for why CMC should discriminate against people like me: whiteys from California. To begin, conservatives are right about at least one thing as it relates to affirmative action programs: any form of positive discrimination is discrimination against whites in the non-pejorative sense of the word. Any program that actively helps bring underrepresented minorities to campus (whether they are religious, racial, economic, or geographic minorities) decreases the likelihood of any single applicant from the overrepresented group being admitted compared to not having the program. The question is whether or not this type of discrimination is justifiable.

Ultimately, I believe affirmative action programs at CMC are justifiable because diversity of all forms enhances the college experience. A classroom discussion of racial politics in the US is probably more insightful when there are students of different racial backgrounds in the class. Economic diversity on campus means that affluent students might actually befriend a kid from a poor family for the first time in their life and have greater appreciation for the tremendous advantages they've had. As a personal example, I recently had a conversation about immigration with a classmate whose parents are first generation immigrants. The student’s experiences personalized the discussion in a meaningful and valuable way. This valuable diversity on campus might happen without CMC’s affirmative action programs of course, but their continuation is the only guarantee that CMC does not become even more inundated with white people from California. These significant benefits of guaranteed diversity are contrasted with a low cost of affirmative action programs. Since CMC is incredibly selective and has a surplus of exceptionally qualified applicants, I imagine that it can achieve at least some diversity of all forms through its affirmative action programs without having to make meaningful reductions in the admissions standards for students of underrepresented groups. The CMC admissions department balances the value of achieving diversity against the cost of taking some students with slightly lower SAT scores and GPAs (just like it does with admissions for some athletes). We may disagree on what exactly this balance should be, but I am utterly confused by opponents of CMC’s affirmative action programs who reject this balancing test entirely.

Opponents of affirmative action as CMC policy will dispute that the program has net benefits for CMC. I encourage them to make their counterarguments on this point in the comments section, but please do so with a focus on CMC since my argument does not necessarily apply to positive discrimination programs at other colleges (and I am frequently accused by unnamed parties of writing posts for The Forum that are not relevant to CMC). At this point, however, I want to handle another commonly cited objection to affirmative action: the claim that the program is unfair because less qualified students take acceptances away from more qualified students who are more deserving of a CMC education. I don’t think we should give this objection as much weight as it commonly receives because moral desert should have little relevance to CMC admission policy. Admissions officers look at past academic performance as a guide to determine how a student will perform at CMC, but do not believe that past performance by itself should count in favor of a student being admitted. An admissions officer would never say, “I will admit this student because she has a 2400 SAT score and a 4.0 GPA even though I know her agoraphobia will make her a failure at CMC.”

Even if we believe moral desert is a fair consideration in CMC admissions policy, however, shouldn’t thriving as a racial minority in a society still corrupted by racism count for something? We have made huge strides as a society eliminating most forms of overt racism, but subconsciously held racist views are still quite prevalent and damaging to young black children. I think that a black student who overcomes widespread racism, but has slightly lower grades and SAT scores than a white student, is at least equally deserving of admission. In response, those opposed to race-based affirmative action often complain that it unfairly hurts poor whites while helping rich blacks. This protest is simply an argument for current CMC admissions policy in which affirmative action programs consider both race and socioeconomic status (unless one believes that overcoming poverty is morally relevant, but overcoming racism is not). Again, I think “fairness” in regards to affirmative action is beside the point. For those who think fairness matters, however, the most fair admissions policy is a holistic one that values past academic achievement as most important, but also considers a student’s economic and racial barriers to achievement. As a white male from California, I was undoubtedly disadvantaged by CMC’s affirmative action programs and I will surely face a similar dynamic when applying to graduate school. Even so, I say to the CMC admissions office: please discriminate against people like me.

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