Race-Blind Admissions

Updated at 8:13 PM Friday, Nov. 13

When a ranking service for American colleges named UCSD the “11th most ethnically diverse college in the nation,” we had to laugh a little bit. How can a school with nearly 50 percent of its students identifying as one ethnicity receive such a distinction? Well, this past week, it seems like UC President Janet Napolitano and the 10 UC chancellors woke up on the right side of the bed, as they jointly filed an amicus brief to the U.S. Supreme Court explaining how the University of California’s “race-blind” admissions policy has not allowed the system to reflect the student diversity in California. Race-blind admissions cause people to overlook the achievement gap in California. It’s time to increase the amount of minority-student enrollment, and the answer to this is affirmative action.

We are not saying that ethnicity should be a top factor in determining a student’s admission — of course qualified students deserve to be here. But what constitutes being qualified? The average combined SAT math and reading score from the freshmen who started UCSD in 2014 was 1295, with African-Americans averaging 1180, Asians 1340, Mexican Americans 1127, Latinos 1212 and Caucasians 1316. Though UC admissions practice “eligibility in the local context” — they compare applicants only to students in their own school and not the entire applicant pool — it’s obvious that many admitted students come from certain areas (UCSD’s “feeder schools”), particularly where there are a large numbers of Asians and Caucasians. UC admissions officers need to accept more students from underrepresented areas. One hundred or so points worth of difference in SAT scores or a few hundredths in GPA points should not prevent admissions offers from accepting more minority students. In these cases, ethnicity should be a factor because a minority student coming from an area with minimal resources who performs well and meets the UC-eligibility requirements has overcome a lot more barriers than a white or Asian student with nearly perfect scores in an affluent area.

Furthermore, the few Latinos that do attend UC schools are concentrated in only a few. UC Riverside, UC Merced, UC Santa Cruz and, most recently, UC Santa Barbara have all been recognized as “Hispanic-Serving Institutions,” meaning that at least 25 percent of the student population identifies as Latino. It’s really excellent that some of the UC schools are meeting this number, but Latinos shouldn’t be tossed into the same three or four UC schools. They deserve the education that their Asian and Caucasian counterparts are getting at more competitive schools, like UCLA and UC Berkeley. We’ve heard many high school students worry that attending a school like UCSD, which houses nearly 50 percent Asian students and 22 percent Caucasian students, might make them feel uncomfortable because the campus doesn’t reflect or understand their needs. This is exactly why affirmative action is needed. Accepting more minority students would not deter or hinder the high-quality work the University of California is producing. Rather, increasing the number of minority students would give a more colorful and diverse perspective on these campuses. 

When, according to the Pew Hispanic Research Center, 20 percent of the nearly 30 million young adults aged 18 to 24 are Latino but only 13 percent are attending UC schools — as per the official University of California Statistical Summary of Students and Staff — that’s a problem. Even more disturbing is the number of African-Americans attending UC schools: 3 percent. And if the University of California started admitting more African-Americans, we can already hear the affirmative action naysayers bitterly lamenting its loss of racial supremacy with comments like, “Oh, I didn’t get accepted because I’m white. They only got in because they’re black.” But that’s a bullshit argument. Racial privilege is real, and perhaps it’s time we start acknowledging this and stop ignoring the problem through “race-blind” admissions. Affirmative action can acknowledge this huge problem and support minorities in their pursuit of higher education. 

Perhaps nothing will come out of this amicus brief, but the fact that it has been submitted shows that administrators recognize the need for more diverse campuses. Director of the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities Antonio Flores said, “The expansion of diversification of educational opportunity is surely a good thing for the state as a whole.” And besides, a little color never hurt anyone.