Non-Discrimination Policies Empower Students of Color

Since first learning about affirmative action in high school, I have often asked white college students if they approve of affirmative action. The most common response I have received is an ambiguous answer: The students usually support the idea of affirmative action but not the way it is practiced. I have also found that it depends on whether or not the college students I am asking got accepted to the college they wanted, because if not, the response is negative and the students may even blame affirmative action for not getting into the school they desired.

But affirmative action is not to blame for a white student’s rejection, nor is it to commend for a student of color’s admittance. First off, before a student’s race is even taken into account, the student in question is already in the top 10 percent of the applicant pool, meaning that any student accepted due to affirmative action policies is already highly qualified. From the surface, affirmative action policies give students of color an advantage; but if you dig deeper, you will notice that these policies do nothing to deconstruct the actual discrimination that those students have faced because of their race.

Whitman College is not an affirmative action institution. Rather, as its policy states, it is a non-discriminatory one. In other words, Whitman does not accept any student or employ any faculty or staff based on factors such as race. It is important to continue with the aims of affirmative action and to understand that non-discrimination policies can still empower students of color without antagonizing white students into feeling they are being cheated. Non-discrimination as an ideology that is practiced by both college admission officers and employers is better than affirmative action policies that only tokenize and objectify students of color.

The issue with affirmative action is that it sets a quota that colleges specifically have to abide by. This does not enable students of color, but rather turns us into a number that a college is required to fill. In contrast, a non-discrimination policy takes into consideration a student’s background as it affects his or her position in society. It is not that students of color deserve preferential treatment simply because of the color of their skin, but rather it is because students of color, regardless of socioeconomic status, face the challenge of overcoming stereotype threat that makes their application impressive.

When a student of color is as strong an applicant as a white student, the student of color should be accepted as a response to the years of oppression and discrimination that people of color have had to face in this country. The difference here is that this is a case-by-case basis and the reason for admitting the student of color would not be in order to fulfill a quota, but instead because the student of color has a perspective that is underrepresented in most college institutions today.

Some would refer to the previous as reverse discrimination, but if you look at the figures specific to Whitman, 76 percent of the newly admitted class is white, while only 2.9 percent is black and 7.4 percent is Hispanic. It is clear, then, that white students are still in the vast majority. So if students do not get into a school, it is not because of the color of their skin, but rather due to what experiences they may bring. Affirmative action policies are very limiting in that they target race as a factor that should determine admission, whereas non-discrimination policies take into account the plethora of experiences that a student may contribute.

Race is not as important as background is. That being said, because the majority of college students of color are first-generation, working class while the majority of white college students are middle to upper-middle class, race does seem to correlate to a specific background. Of course that is not a formula, which is why non-discrimination policies are more encompassing and fair than affirmative action policies that only look at physical characteristics such as race to make final admission decisions.

This is not to say that white students here at Whitman have not struggled at some point in their lives. But for students of color, statistics already show that we should expect to be the minority even though, combined, we are in fact the majority. Until this changes, we will need to rely on informed non-discriminatory policies to ensure that the undervalued and underprivileged have the same opportunities as those that have been privileged.




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