For better or worse: Breaking Down the Barriers

As UCSD students begin yet another quarter at our fine university, they will endure a second onslaught of tests, midterms and finals. Amid all the drama and excitement that typify college, I begin to wonder how many students take time to truly reflect on the process in which many of them were granted admittance.

Frostenson
Guardian

Because of the passing of Proposition 209 a few years back, many of today’s students have not had to worry about dealing first-hand with the effects of affirmative action. Since 1995, the debate over the legitimacy of affirmative action has raged, fueled mostly by conservatives such as Pete Wilson, Dinesh D’souza and Ward Connerly, though many so-called liberals, too, have been vocal members of the opposition.

Many opponents of affirmative action in California bring up the familiar argument that such practices are racist and support a form of “”reverse discrimination,”” wherein certain more qualified students get denied admittance to UC schools over less qualified minority students. They go on to argue that even though admissions boards may no longer maintain specific racial quotas when deciding who to accept and who to deny, they are still unfairly influenced by a racial agenda.

The case of Regents of the University of California v. Bakke in 1978 is often cited by affirmative action critics to support their stance. In it, Allan Bakke sued the University of California for twice denying him admittance to the UC Davis School of Medicine. According to Bakke, although his test scores were higher than many of the minority applicants the school admitted, he was still rejected because he was white.

Ultimately, the case went to the Supreme Court in which the justices ruled 5 to 4 that UC should admit Bakke. The decision further states that schools cannot use racial quotas in determining who they accept. However it leaves open the practice of considering race in admissions to encourage diversity.

While I agree with the notion that students should be judged by their own merits, I also recognize that we do not live in a perfect world — that is, judging students on an even playing field, the fact of the matter is that everyone is not on an even playing field. To assume that would be a naive and misguided attempt to ignore all the inequality that exists in our society today. This is where the case against affirmative action is weakest.

Too often affirmative action has suffered from being overly scrutinized for the moral and ethical issues that it raises. What is often forgotten in the debate are the systems of discrimination that created a need for such a program in the first place. For opponents to suggest that admissions boards judge a person solely by their own merits as if we were all equal would be a dire mistake; it conveniently implies that our society is and has always been cured of the prevailing disease known as racism. Unfortunately, this simply is not the case.

Historically, groups of people have been disenfranchised and marginalized in numerous institutions exclusively on the basis of their race. Affirmative action should be seen more as a necessary, albeit flawed, remedy for creating greater opportunities for groups who normally experience considerable inequalities..

Without a program like affirmative action, we would have a system that only serves to further polarize and segregate our society. In many ways, this is precisely what has happened over the past few years at UC campuses, as well as colleges across the nation. Minorities in general are increasingly absent from most student populations, particularly in elite colleges. UC Berkeley and UCLA have suffered from a lack of more diversity as a result of Prop 209 and its subsequent abolishment of affirmative action in state programs.. UCSD is definitely no exception in this regard.

At a recent Graduate Diversity Conference hosted by UCLA, Patricia Gurin, a professor at the University of Michigan and one of the state’s expert witnesses in an affirmative action suit against the university, expressed the crucial role programs such as affirmative action play in society.

“”Knowledge is not just what you think or what you know, but how you think and how you discover new information. This is affected by diversity,”” Gurin said.

Diversity should not necessarily be the narrow goal of affirmative action, but more of a positive byproduct. The true goal of affirmative action and the reason it should be reinstated in the UC system has always been social justice. We can no longer live in a “”color-blind”” society, pretending that race and socio-economic status do not matter in today’s America.

It is time we remind ourselves that race does matter regardless of how much we buy into the lie that we are all equal, or at least treated as such.

Affirmative action, or some form of it, will always be necessary so long as we live in a society that continues to create inequalities between a majority that is content to maintain the status quo and a minority that struggles to conform to the mainstream majority social and cultural faction.

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