Michelle Obama And "What Affirmative Action Really Does to Campuses"
February 21, 2008, 03:30 AM
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The stories about how Michelle Obama spent her academic career perpetually peeved remind me of the first piece of journalism I was ever paid for, an op-ed entitled "What Affirmative Action Really Does to Campuses," that was published in the Christian Science Monitor in 1991. Here`s an excerpt:
For example, at the University of California at Berkeley, affirmative action has created what one professor there, anthropologist Vincent Sarich, calls "two student bodies," distinguishable by skin color. Only 40% of the freshman openings are awarded to the best-qualified white and Asian students, while most of the rest are reserved for Hispanic and African-American applicants who must merely meet the legal minimums. Since there is only room for the elite of the white and Asian applicants, those selected have qualifications worthy of the Ivy League. While the Hispanic and African- American students typically possess skills more than adequate for most colleges, they are frequently overwhelmed trying to compete with Berkeley`s handpicked whites and Asians: the dropout rate of the "protected" minorities is much higher, despite their tending to get shunted into less demanding majors.

Even more serious, possibly, is how affirmative action poisons campus racial attitudes. Because skin color determines who gets in, students can (and do) use skin color, with an unfortunately high degree of accuracy, to estimate how tough a class` grading curve will be. Stories abound of students poking their heads into classes they are considering taking, exclaiming things like, "Too many Chinese," and scurrying off to find a classroom with less competitive demographics.

These are gross stereotypes; sadly, owing to affirmative action, students find them useful. In contrast, color-blind admissions would mean the different ethnic groups would be, on the whole, comparably qualified. Stereotypes would be of less use; students would have to view each other as individuals. (Color-blind admissions does not mean that colleges couldn`t recruit minorities more intensely, just that admissions decisions would not take race into account.)

While affirmative action inculcates smugness and condescension among whites and Asians, it instills self-doubt, paranoia, and frustration among its supposed beneficiaries. Sociologist Troy Duster spent a year interviewing Berkeley students to discover the roots of the growing racial hostility on campus. Professor Duster (who is African-American) was recently interviewed in the San Francisco Chronicle:

And the subject of affirmative action admissions "is where all the juices come out," Duster says. Blacks and Latinos generally support affirmative action, but are ambivalent because, "they say, they are characterized as affirmative action admits, no matter what their grade point average is." Duster says these students are convinced that in the minds of whites and Asians "they don`t really belong here. Affirmative action becomes a stigma for them." In such a charged atmosphere, says Duster, students of color "feel belittled," and "just about anything can be interpreted as racism." . . . "What I experienced when I talked to these kids is their increasing rage at their own inability to justify the charge of racism."