The Strategic Retreat

Y’all need to calm down about Affirmative Action

Jeff Graduating

There’s been some recent hubbub on the internet about a Black kid who got accepted to all the Ivy League schools. Most of the people who seem to be offended by this are white. Many white people feel that they are denied admission to elite colleges because of their skin color. They aren’t. Affirmative Action, as it applies to elite college admissions, has nearly no impact on white people. Underrepresented minorities benefit, a group that’s in the subset of ‘white’ benefits and non-URM Asians are harmed. For white people, as a whole, it’s a wash.

Now before you mistake my position as some kind of radical communist person-of-color plot, I’d like to point out that I am a White person. I’m not only White but I’m the worst kind of White. I’m of Northern European ancestry, raised middle/upper-middle class in a well-off suburb by loving parents. I had all the luxuries of non-elite whiteness that public education and a low crime community had to offer. To top things off, I’m not even 100% white, I’m 3% Native American. As we all know, White people who claim to be 3% Native American are the Whitest of all White people. I’m so White that I can point out that I’m not all White. I have so much White privilege that I have some to spare and cast off. I’m so white that I went to University for Political Science and Philosophy, not even feeling a need to contribute to society, always assuming my whiteness would give me a pass. I’m so white that I haven’t dated a white woman in 4 years. I’m so white that after University I moved to a Black neighborhood in Portland. Basically, what I’m saying is; I’m as white as they come so you can trust I have no kind of anti-White agenda when I speak of AA not being a big deal for us Whities .

The current system to get into an elite school isn’t even really Affirmative Action anymore. Each school is trying to put together the best student body for the betterment of the school and the experience of the students. That generally means people of diverse backgrounds, interests and life events. Part of that diversity is ethnicity, race and culture. One hindrance in seeing the benefit of this is that many applicants only look at the situation from their own perspective. They often compare their numbers against the numbers of other students. But that’s not how a student body is selected. That’s not how a student body should be selected. Schools aren’t just choosing individuals, they are choosing an overall populations to foster an overall experience.

An acceptance letter isn’t a medal at the end of a race, it’s getting an invitation to join a carefully selected fellowship for a lifetime journey. Acceptance isn’t a reward for hard work or intelligence. There are ten times more people who could succeed at an Ivy than the number who get accepted. Scoring 20 more points on the SAT doesn’t make somebody more deserving of that placement. Once you’ve shown you can thrive at an Ivy a few extra points don’t matter nearly as much as what else you bring to the table. The best student body isn’t a homogenous group of upper class kids from big cities and elite prep schools but that’s what you’d get if you selected students solely based on the numbers. You’d get the same boring kids with the same shared experiences, economic background and geopolitical focus; that’s not what’s best for the school or the students.

Race and admissions can be difficult to speak of definitively. For one, Private Schools release very limited information on race and the selection process. For another, race is more of a political concept than a scientific one. North Indians being considered Asian, rather than white, harms them in the selection process. Whereas individual ethnicities can account for up to half the White Ivy League students. The race factor is based more on how we’ve decided to chop up and divide people than any real cultural or physical differences.

Each admissions office does its best to work through these blurred lines and judge applicants on their individual merits. Imagine you were trying to select 20 speakers for a conference and wish to be diverse about it. It’s not going to be perfect, it can’t be. It’s easy to balance out the number of men and women but once you get to something as vague as race, things get murky. Is the Hispanic guy really what we mean by “Hispanic” if he’s a White dude from Spain? Did all the Asians end up being Indian or all the white guys protestant? Also, who’s to say these are the only important categories? Do we have a short guy? A tall woman? A guy who grew up poor? A veteran? A mother? A gay person? A dude with a bum leg? Somebody new to the business who has a fresh outlook? Somebody entrenched with a lot of clout? A cross skilled person from another industry? What if your industry is skewed 30/70 by gender and you don’t feel comfortable about inquiring about somebodies sexual preference when deciding speakers? What then? How do you ensure you’ll have a diverse group of speakers, that also meet a high standard of quality and perfectly aline that with national demographics? You can’t, it’s not a thing that is possible to do. If you can’t do it with 20, you can’t do it with 30,000.

Ivy admissions aren’t going to please everyone and they won’t seem “fair” to the person who was passed over when somebody with worse marks was selected. Nobody lost their spot to Kwasi Enin. They never had a spot. It was the schools spot, and the school offered it to the person that would better the school the most. It’s not meant to be fair to the individual, it’s meant to be fair to the University and to the student body as a whole. The school doesn’t owe you an admission and if you didn’t get accepted, well; you should have done something different. Life isn’t an event you can test out of.

About Jeff Penman

Jeff was born in the back of a War Game Store on the day the first Star Trek movie came out, to a computer programmer mother and a father who wrote the story for Dragon's Lair. Jeff has an MBA and a penchant for sticking his nose here it doesn't belong.