Selecting Diversity

Selecting Diversity

Screen shot 2016-01-20 at 5.38.34 PMOnce again, UCSD has received a record-breaking number of freshman and transfer applications. This hardly comes as a surprise. An increase in applications is always anticipated. According to KPBS, we received one of the highest number of applications in the entire UC system, second only to UCLA. There was also an increase in the racial diversity of applicants; unfortunately, this increase does not necessarily forecast a more diverse student population at UCSD.

Of course, the university deserves accolades for steadily attracting students from a more diverse set of backgrounds. From last year, the number of black freshman applicants jumped 9.2 percent; transfers, 33.1 percent. Moreover, Latino and Mexican-American application numbers rose the most, with a 10.1 percent increase.

Although this is worth recognition, it raises important questions about where these applicants are going. If there are 9.2 percent more black applicants, will the amount of black students will rise correspondingly next year? For the past 10 years, they have never accounted for more than 2 percent of the student population in the entire university. This is simply unacceptable.

On the flipside, it is intriguing that Asian-Americans have made up between 49 to 45 percent of the student population for the past seven years, despite making up only 14.9 percent of the state’s population. According to The Economist, Asian-Americans are 11% more likely than the general public to believe in the American dream, and the idea that “people who want to get ahead can make it if they are willing to work hard.”This supports the idea that Asian-Americans are culturally driven to meet academic standards of success, and that their more substantial representation may therefore result from the university issuing acceptances purely on the basis of academic merit.

The McNair Scholars Research Journal argues that black students are overrepresented in special education programs because educators have implicit racial biases that cause them to over-refer black children into these programs. The dominant grading system may also penalize students for exhibiting intelligence in ways that stray from conventional educational values. Although the quality of applicants is important, it seems difficult to believe that such qualitative assessment enables proper judgements. Instead, it seems more likely that there is a bias in the scales we, as a society, use to evaluate intelligence and success. More of an effort must be made to recognize the diverse merits of underrepresented and underprivileged groups, rather than relying solely on academic achievement as a metric.

Traditional academics are not the only barrier to attendance. Individuals from underprivileged backgrounds may be academically qualified to attend UCSD without being able to afford it. While approximately 55 percent of University of California students do not pay tuition, there are other direct and indirect costs associated with attendance. Aside from living costs, which in San Diego are not particularly cheap, families who depend on the earnings of their children may lose a critical source of income when a student goes to college. It is necessary to have more scholarships and programs that focus on bridging this gap. However, in order for these financial opportunities to even be considered, communities need to be aware of these scholarships’ existence.

If the university truly intends to create a more inclusive campus culture with a student body reflecting California’s demographics, it should focus on informing applicants and their families of potential financial opportunities. If there is any hope of living up to the ideals of the American Dream, this is an important step that the administration needs to take sooner than later.

Aspirational goals and statements from the university professing its dedication to principles of tolerance and inclusivity undoubtedly contribute to conversations surrounding these issues. However, once examined, they are only a means to improve the university’s image. According to one of the latest statements issued by the university, the Statement of Principles Against Intolerance, the document is intended to “reflect the principles of the Regents” and contains a list with examples that “do not reflect the University’s values of inclusion and tolerance.”   Although the statement may be intended to foster a better academic environment for students, the language itself reflects a need to appear virtuous and to be on the correct side of the political climate.

Just as the number of applicants does not signify a shift in the UC’s demographics, public statements do not illustrate a shift in university policy. Thus, direct, concrete action in the form of new high school programs or change in curriculum to increase awareness is in order to ensure these numbers and words to reflect our values.

The fact that the university can pat itself on the back for increased minority group application rates while simultaneously ignoring their needs and reinforcing institutionalized racism is revolting. So, although we grant the university a sincere “congratulations” for its triumphant increase in diverse applicants, we’ll have to save the final word for when the admissions committee makes its selections.

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