Race-blind admissions exacerbate racial inequity

On June 29, the Supreme Court decided to overturn the legality of race-conscious affirmative action. Most people were bracing themselves for this landmark legal decision, rather than hoping for a better outcome. Throughout these decisions, Duke has not done enough to address the potential concerns that students have about how they may feel regarding admissions. Conversations on campus regarding affirmative action still lack emphasis on discussion about how a student's background, including their race, affects their overall educational experience before college. Regardless of one’s stance on race-conscious affirmative action, it is important that members of the Duke community understand and acknowledge the significance of these factors.

A recent Chronicle opinion piece titled “On race-conscious affirmative action” raised numerous contentious statements that remain unchallenged on Duke’s campus. The author of the article acknowledges the existence of racism but denies it plays a significant enough role to justify the existence of race-conscious programs. The author reduces racial experiences to a “look.” In America, “the way we look” can also lead to unintended consequences regarding employment, education and even social life before the college application cycle even begins. For many Black Americans, this can begin as young as kindergarten; many studies have shown that Black children are often disciplined by instructors at much higher rates than their peers and are targeted in young classrooms. Ignoring the experience of race — something so instrumental to one’s lived experience — altogether is a disservice to applicants. 

The author points out the recent Baldwin Scholars program lawsuit as an example of an over-extensive use of the affirmative action ruling and argues that the biological difference of sex is “intrinsically'' different while racial differences between people do not make them “intrinsically” distinct. However, the problem with this sentiment is that even if people are not biologically different, they do intrinsically have different experiences as people because of their race, gender, or sexuality. You cannot acknowledge sex-based discrimination while invalidating discrimination based on other qualities as all of these issues are inextricably intertwined. 

Additionally, condoning this perspective allows those with malicious intentions to refute all inequity. The author intentionally highlights the African American experience as a point against affirmative action, insisting that “an African American from a wealthy family would be prioritized over an Asian American from a low-income household.” The author's perspective shows the way people often misconstrue affirmative action as solely benefiting people of color, especially African Americans. Despite this, plenty of research has proven that a policy has worked in the favor of a variety of groups, with white women being one of the primary beneficiaries. More importantly, decrying social welfare, targeting racial equity programs and discriminating against Black Americans is a part of a larger movement to deny all racial inequity. It is alarming that Edward Blum, litigant of the affirmative action case, is setting his sights on “racially exclusive scholarships, internships and other educational programs” next. Clearly, the argument that the abolition of affirmative action stands to increase fairness for Asian Americans is falling through as the emboldened affirmative action litigants are now seeking to stop minority groups from accessing resources aimed at helping them. 

The rhetoric of the article “On race-conscious affirmative action” contributes to the culture of undermining student backgrounds on a wider level and on a campus level. Duke administration has also turned a blind eye to the needs of its students of color concerning racial equity and admissions, particularly with its recruitment weekends. On June 29, President Price released a statement saying “We remain steadfastly committed to cultivating a racially and socially equitable Duke to the fullest extent permitted by the law.” On July 6, this was followed by an email from Duke Student Affairs voicing support for race-conscious admission.  However, student groups like Mi Gente and Black Student Alliance have asked for more support and acknowledgment for their work on the Black Student Alliance Invitational and Latinx Student Recruitment Weekend for years. These programs are instrumental to increasing diversity on campus. According to data released in 2019, there was a record number of newly admitted Latino students, and most accredited it to Latino Student Recruitment Weekend. Yet, the administration often ignores the student groups’ demands for more support. Even when things began to open up on campus post-COVID-19 in 2022, Duke chose to keep these recruitment programs mostly virtual. Creating a racially and socially equitable Duke can hardly be claimed to have been done to “the fullest extent permitted by the law” when only one request from student groups in the last few years has been fully fulfilled by the administration. Duke would be blind not to acknowledge the fact that the climate they generate on campus through their own policies is exacerbating the impact of these court cases. Had the other demands not fallen on deaf ears for the past decade, more infrastructure would be in place to recruit Black and Latino students in a post-affirmative action world. 

Despite the seeming recency of these issues, race-conscious admission at Duke has been a point of contention for quite some time now. In 2012, the Black Student Alliance protested Duke Economics Professor Peter Arcidiacono’s research on minority enrollment, major change and GPA. His research eventually contributed to the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn affirmative action. Peter Arcidiacono also recently filmed a podcast with Jordan B. Peterson, someone who has been known to dismiss other’s backgrounds through transphobic, discriminatory commentary. During the podcast, Peterson says, “Well the advocates of systemic racism…would say the racism is so deep that not only does it discriminate on the admissions side but it also discriminates on the performance side.” Arcidiacono replies, “All those things disappear as soon as you control for academic backgrounds." This proclamation blatantly disregards the reality that academic backgrounds are significantly affected by racial and socioeconomic factors. Plenty of scholars who believe in systemic racism also believe that racism is partially responsible for worse K-12 education outcomes in Black, Latino and Native American students. Quantifying ability based on a few academic factors such as GPA, test scores or major changes buries the impact that their background has on their performance. 

For proponents of admissions based solely on one’s socioeconomic class, you cannot choose to live as colorblind in a world that clearly isn’t. Champions of socioeconomic-conscious admissions disregard the fact that these racial groups are still a minority in America, and the majority of low-income people are actually White. For example, 24.62 million white Americans live below the poverty line as opposed to 8.92 million Black Americans. If every racial group applied to schools at the same rate as their general population, proportionally a white person would be more likely to be selected by a system based on socioeconomic class. However, this would completely undermine the surrounding factors that make race important such as segregated housing, worse educational experiences, and the systemic experience of poverty many people of color face, especially Native Americans. Sanctioning socioeconomic-conscious admission would simply be slapping another band-aid on the college admissions process. You cannot separate economic and racial disparity when historically, racial inequity has caused poverty. Numerous federal and state-wide policies have discriminated against people of color for decades.

Our race, history, culture, sexuality and gender impact our experiences long before we begin to apply to college. The extent to which race affects one’s life is mixed with a variety of factors and to deny race is to deny history. Until racial discrimination is nonexistent, programs, scholarships and employers should consider race when people apply. Those who choose to side with bad actors that deny racial inequity should not be surprised when those bad actors try to deny all forms of inequity. 

Anthony Salgado is a Trinity senior. His column typically runs on alternate Tuesdays.


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