Whitewashing at GU: Admissions Should Target More Diversity

Like almost 800 other Hoyas last week, I was fortunate to get a seat in Gaston Hall for Chris Matthew’s “Hardball” College Tour. I noticed something peculiar about the 60 individuals in the on-stage audience, though – there were only five non-white people. Then I looked around the whole room, and I felt like I had walked into an Anglo-Saxon convention. I was ashamed that my school was so homogenous and that I represented another beneficiary of white privilege in American society. Though Georgetown may try to market itself as ethnically and culturally diverse, millions of television viewers last Wednesday saw Georgetown as another elitist institution for the white race. Although the “Hardball” audience is an extreme case of homogeneity at Georgetown, it demonstrates a need for continued promotion of diversity in higher education.

This is the point when I mention affirmative action and everyone develops a passionate opinion of incontrovertible support or opposition. Affirmative action recently resurfaced in the media amidst judicial proceedings over the University of Michigan’s former admission policies. The university’s admissions office utilized a point system to evaluate applicants; for instance, a 4.0 GPA would equal 80 points and a perfect SAT score would yield 12 points. Additionally, non-white applicants automatically would receive 20 points, and this is where the constitutionality of the affirmative action policy comes into question. Opponents argue that the point system represents reverse discrimination against white applicants. However, supporters assert that the scheme avoids quotas and coincides with Supreme Court Justice Lewis Powell’s 1978 Bakke ruling: “The goal of achieving a diverse student body is sufficiently compelling to justify consideration of race . ” The Supreme Court is scheduled to rule on the University of Michigan case this year, and the verdict could have ramifications for all tertiary institutions.

I have always been an ardent University of Michigan enthusiast; my sister attended the school, and it was my second choice to Georgetown. Furthermore, I have always been a keen advocate of affirmative action and diversity; nonetheless, I strongly disapprove of any system that automatically rewards a number of points to a person based on a subjective characteristic. My problems with the point system transcend affirmative action. For instance, an applicant would also receive 20 points for being a scholarship athlete and 4 points for having a parent alumnus (http://www.umich.edu/~mrev/archives/1999/summer/chart.htm). These factors play little role in diversifying the student body, and, furthermore, they have no academic merit. Thus the University of ichigan’s point system neglects to determine how someone might contribute to diversity and instead merely makes assumptions based on race.

Nevertheless, I still espouse affirmative action; I support Georgetown’s policy, but the “Hardball” whitewash reveals that the procedure needs to produce better results. Georgetown uses a system whereby the admissions committee evaluates every candidate individually. If the applicant is academically qualified, the board examines various factors such as geographic location, school activities, sports, socio-economic background, and race (“Affirming Georgetown’s Commitment to Diversity,” The Voice, Dec. 6, 2001). The goal is to create a heterogeneous student population so that mere social interactions can act as learning experiences. If Georgetown did not care about the numerous levels of diversity, our population would probably be 100 percent from suburban New Jersey. Thus, Georgetown’s affirmative action system is appropriate because it recognizes the big picture of heterogeneity without offering elements of arbitrariness or reverse discrimination.

Affirmative action is obviously not enough, though; there is a metaphor that it is like putting a band-aid over a gushing wound. According to the Georgetown admissions office Web site, the 1999 incoming class was only eight percent black and six percent Latino. However, according to the 2000 census, the US population is 12.3 percent black and 12.5 percent Latino. Obviously there are more problems than just recruitment if the proportions of students do not reflect the general population. Though there are multitudinous factors influencing racial disadvantages in the United States, I am a firm believer that the solution lies in education. Only when all Americans have equal access to good public education will affirmative action no longer be necessary as a temporary remedy. Improving public education is not an easy or cheap task; it requires heaps of government money to fund new schools, superior equipment, better textbooks and higher teacher salaries. Without teachers nobody would advance in our society, and thus it is disgusting that they make a pittance relative to their job significance.

Unfortunately, our government neglects both the permanent and temporary resolutions to ethnic and socio-economic disadvantages. Instead of increasing funding to public schools, conservative politicians deem it more worthwhile to provide voucher discounts for students to attend private schools. As for affirmative action – it bothers me that the University of Michigan’s policy is the one under scrutiny. If I, a self-professed liberal and affirmative action proponent, find disfavor with the university’s procedure, then there is no telling what dismantling of all affirmative action the conservative Supreme Court might decree. It is essential to recognize, though, that affirmative action benefits not only non-white students, but everyone. I now fear for the future of diversity in tertiary education, though, and I only hope that next time the spotlight hits Georgetown University, it will illuminate more than just white faces.

Noah Riseman is a junior in the College. Plenty Left to Say appears every other Friday.

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