Affirmative action for whom?

The Trump administration believes that white men have been disadvantaged in college admissions. The Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department, in a development that would be amusingly hypocritical if it were not a sickening subversion of everything the division stands for, has decided to investigate and possibly sue colleges and universities with affirmative action plans.  The department is running the project out of its front office rather than its Educational Opportunities Section because the career staff wants nothing to do with it.

While they’re at it, I think the administration should look at all the affirmative action programs. Let’s start with athletes. In 2017, NCAA Division I schools were allowed 269.9 scholarships for male athletes per year and 254.1 for women athletes.  (When I was applying to college back in the dawn of time, I was at an event for potential Princeton students, where the young men (there were no young women aside from me in the room) bitterly moaned about money spent on women’s sports taking away funding for smaller men’s sports such as wrestling. Funny, they would bitch about the relatively small number of women’s scholarships in any given sport (the most for any women’s sport in 2017 was 18 for Track & Field/Cross Country and Ice Hockey) but seemed perfectly okay with the huge number of scholarships allocated to football (85 in 2017). You still see some of these misogynistic crybabies on the Internet.)

And what about rich kids? Kids whose parents can effectively buy their way in (cough*JaredKushner*cough)? What is that but affirmative action for the wealthy?

And then there are legacies. Your folks went to XYZ elite university, and you have a better shot at going there yourself. Given the lack of diversity programs in the past, legacy admissions maintain the socioeconomic status quo, and not in a good way.

I am the product of two very elite institutions. I was not a legacy, I was not wealthy, and I was certainly not an athlete. I got in because of my test scores (my grades were good but not earth-shaking) and my ability to write a decent essay. I was able to stay in because both schools had good financial aid programs. But the more I looked around, the more I came to believe that diversity of all types — racial, ethnic, religious, socioeconomic — is essential to a proper education.

I can still remember quite vividly the classmate at Wellesley, who in the midst of a discussion about America in the 1960s, said “But what you do defines you! It’s the first thing people say about themselves! You know….’I’m a doctor,’ ‘I’m a lawyer’…” ” “Not if you’re a taxicab driver or a plumber,” I replied. She looked shocked. She honestly had not considered the world beyond the narrow slice of society that she knew.

Classmates and professors taught me to understand the ways in which the experience of people of color differed from mine. I still miss things, but to the extent I am cognizant of racial inequalities I have them to thank.

And law schools almost definitionally require diversity. All of us are covered by the law, and all of us need to have our experiences reflected in the makeup of those who carry out those laws. Lawyers from elite law schools become professors, or judges, or, often, lawmakers.  We need a broad range of perspectives to ensure that we truly are one nation with justice for all.

But justice for all is clearly not a priority for the Trump administration. Otherwise, they would never be spending resources in seeking to “protect” a class of people that get more protection than anyone else.

In the end,  most of us — not merely those who benefit from diversity programs — will be the poorer for it.

 

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