As with most political issues, whenever I think about affirmative action, I quickly reach a mental impasse that shuns all solutions. On one hand, my liberal sensibilities tell me we must provide opportunities for those who did not receive them, and that without affirmative action, we would add miles to the gap between rich and poor. On the other hand, a close friend in high school who happened to have black skin had a worse application than I did yet managed to score full scholarships to high-ranking schools like Duke while I had difficulties getting accepted. He was rich, had all the opportunities I had, and was handed one more because of his skin color. I distinctly remember the “Why?” thoughts that I had to confront whenever he said hello as he passed me in the high-school hallways. I didn’t say anything; I felt it had to be held onto in secret.
Many years later, I’m happy to say that I can embrace him without any jealousy. But I still say that process was unfair. In university admissions processes, our main priority should be to create a fertile environment that pulsates with new ideas and aims to shatter scientific and artistic boundaries. If we focus on this goal, we will naturally achieve idea and experiential diversity because it’s necessary for innovation. Alternatively, if we focus on artificially manufacturing diversity by relying on deceptive measures like race, heritage, or family background, we’re creating a superficially diverse group that makes everyone feel warm inside but may not create the best learning environment. Surely college must be more about curating mental tectonic shifts and less about curating a person’s first experience with a black/Muslim/Indian person?
Consider this. Think of a person you’ve interacted with whom you normally wouldn’t have. Perhaps someone from Germany or Ghana. You feel like a more well-rounded person afterwards. Why? It’s not because he or she has a funny accent or is black. It’s because of how that person conveyed his or her experience to you. It’s the inflection in their tone as their voice wraps around a story. It’s the glint in their eye and the scar that recounts an untold horror. It’s the personal experience that clothes the fact that they are German or Ghanaian with color and humanity. Not simply the fact that they are foreign or are black. That tells you next to nothing.
So how to convey this on an application? First of all I’d say make the application anonymous, and lessen the influence of standardized tests. Make it so that grades and SAT have about 50% weight. The other 50% should be about ideas, about experiences and not about bubbles and quotas. Ask applicants interesting questions that disarm them of clichés and strip them of their comfort zone bullshit. Let’s create that fertile environment full of ideas where we can personally grow and facilitate worldly growth, and not focus on filling quotas.
Morgan Freeman said in an interview on 60 minutes several years back that to achieve true equality, we have to delete the labels that we use to divide us. No more black, white, yellow, or green. I’m not saying that we stop talking about and stop helping those who don’t have the same opportunities. But at some point we have to stop labeling. At 18 years old, with people finally ready to begin seriously learning about themselves and the world, we’re ready to drop the labels.
Morgan Freeman interview- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GeixtYS-P3s