Redefining the victim: How colleges will soon justify affirmative action-for whites


Waiting for the Supreme Court ruling in Fisher? Forget it. The fix is in. Affirmative Action for Whites is coming as more colleges use class to trump race in college admissions.

Didn’t you read the front page of the New York Times on Sunday?

The right column front is always where editors place “the big story,” and there on the right column was the story on the new report that is likely to redefine affirmative action as it’s practiced now–regardless of what the Supreme Court does on the Fisher case.

The headline, “Better Colleges Failing to Lure Poorer Strivers,” (that’s the slightly different headline in my national edition), and its subhead, “Qualified but Unaware; Study Says Most Don’t Apply Despite Skills, Hurting Diversity,” isn’t exactly as earth shattering as, say, “Budget issues solved; GOP comes to its senses; World Peace next.”

But you’d understand it to be front page news, if they just gave the news to us straight: “Influential report to become new justification for affirmative action–for white people.”

That’s a big deal.

The comprehensive national study by two longtime Harvard and Stanford researchers analyzed everyone who took the SAT recently.

What they found was that only 34 percent of low-income students (defined as students from families with incomes under $41,472) attended the country’s 238 most selective colleges.

Meanwhile, 78 percent of students from families earning more than $120,776, attended the best schools.

We’re talking about qualified low-income kids. The top students. They either didn’t know about the colleges (Is Washington University really in St.Louis?). Or they weren’t aware the schools were interested in them. They also didn’t know anyone who attended these schools in the first place. They felt more at home with a hometown water tower, not an ivory tower.

That means the students end up staying close to home, where the schools often have fewer resources and students go unchallenged intellectually. The tragedy is they end up dropping out in even greater numbers and fail to reach their full potential. They lose. Higher ed loses. Society loses.

Trumping race with class isn’t exactly new, especially if you’ve observed the debilitating internal debate among liberals over the question of equity for the poor. Liberal commentators of the ’80s and ’90s found themselves guilt-ridden about the rural kids from the Appalachias. Why do they get the shaft, while the mythical “Cosby” kids get into Harvard? The criticism opened the door to the new critique of affirmative action as “reverse discrimination.” It also led to the hijacking of MLK, as when anti-affirmative action campaigns called for “color-blind” admissions.

Now as affirmative action is threatened again in the Fisher case, this new report comes out as a kind of preemptive strike. It seemingly allows liberal detractors of affirmative action to save face on the matter simply by showing how on a class basis, among qualified candidates, there is national tragedy. Before we even get to the race question. We don’t look at their grades and skin color. Just their grades and their parents’ bank accounts. And boy, how colleges had better do the right thing by reaching out to those “poor, qualified strivers” who don’t know that the elite colleges really want them.

And what about race?

Oh, yeah, that’s buried in the Times story after the jump and in the deep text.

According to the new study, here’s the racial make-up of the low-income students:

African American, 6 percent

Latino, 8 percent

Asian American, 15 percent

Whites, 69 percent.

Which brings us to the real lead. The report names the real victims of college admissions inequities as the poor whites! They still may not choose to attend the elite schools, but the report virtually assures we will see more and better outreach to them now.

And suddenly we have an alternative to affirmative action that conservative anti-affirmative action types will love.

A compromise? The only thing compromised is the chance for admission of students of color. Because race is de-emphasized, affirmative action based on race will be simply coincidental.

Meanwhile, white students’ chances are vastly improved-now that they will be defined as “acceptable victims” for admissions outreach.

Colleges really don’t have to wait for the Supreme Court’s ruling on Fisher. Admissions officers simply can take off the race-colored glasses now, and put on the class ones instead.

Asian Americans, Latinos, and African Americans? If race is further de-emphasized in favor of class, there’s no telling how many of us will be deprived of opportunities deserved.

But the report solves one tragedy and sweeps another under the rug. It shouldn’t be a choice of class over race. After all these years, it is evident that affirmative action should be about addressing both.

Emil Guillermo is an independent journalist/commentator.
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The views expressed in his blog do not necessarily represent AALDEF’s views or policies.
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