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Tuesday, March 15, 2011

UWeekly: Race Matters

A recent front page article of UWeekly, one of Ohio State's student-run newspapers, caught my attention and commandeered the post here today. 

Here is the front page: 

In my mind, I thought: "oh good! They have an article about the pressures and disparities in education accessfaced by minority students." What I should have thought was: "Uh oh! Here we go again..."

I scanned my annotated version of the article for you below:

I have so many issues with this article I hardly know where to begin. In brief, the article addresses the Ohio State Admission policy, which takes race into account in it's admission decisions, and discusses how unfair that is to white and Asian students.

On the one hand, I feel like there is no way to win discussions on the topics like this, so why bother? Plus, I have also already outlined my beliefs on topics of affirmative action and 'reverse discrimination' on this blog. But, for the sake of lowering my blood pressure, I'll mention a few points here.
One of the biggest things that bothers me about articles like this is that they rarely discuss the challenges that minority students face in accessing higher education, nor is there ever a recognition of the history of advantages that white students have that put the ahead from the get-go. It's true that a given white student might have disadvantages to overcome, but white folks have a long history of attending college, and that success begets itself:

If your grandfather (and grandmother, in my case!) served in WWII, chances are good he could take advantage of the GI bill and go to college (unless he was black and colleges wouldn't accept him) and he could build economic security by buying a home though that same GI bill, maybe with a little help with the down payment from his parents (unless they are just staying afloat themselves), and he could become part of the growing middle class of the 1950s and 60s (unless he got redlined into a declining neighborhood). He could earn better wages through unionnegotiations (unless the union wouldn't accept him because of his race). Then he could make sure his kids went to a good high school (unless the redlined houses didn't have high enough property values to produce the tax revenue needed for successful public schools). And since he had been to college, he could encourage his children to attend as well (and perhaps benefit from legacy-basedadmission policies), provide his children with guidance through the admissions process, and perhaps financial support to fund their higher education. Then his children could graduate from college, get a higher paying job, in a good neighborhood, with successful schools, and start the cycle over again with lucky little you

It really ticked me off when this article sited low African-American and Hispanic graduation rates followed by the quote: "it shows that this kind of discrimination really is not good for anybody." The author implies that the university is lowering its standards to admit minority students that never had what it takes to do well in college anyway. The truth is that multitudes of highly qualified POC never get the opportunity to even think about applying to college and those that make it face all sorts of barriers and prejudices that members the majority never have to worry about as they go through their studies. The author completely ignores the many varied factors that contribute to the graduation rates he sites.
Kaplan charges up to $3,600 for SAT prep

Articles like this one love to mention disparities in standardized in test scores, but again rarely include a discussion about from where those disparities come. First of all, tests like the SATs say very little about a person's intelligence, but are simply a measure of one's ability to perform on said test. So if you come from a school that coaches test taking, or if you have the time and financial resources to take multiple practice tests, buy College Board books, and take Kaplan classes, you are likely to do pretty well.
If we were truly living in a meritocracy, a race-blind system of admissions would work pretty well. But we live a country that routinely and systematically stacks the odds against people of color. From early on, children of color can expect less nurturing attention from the teacher, more frequent and sever disciplinary action, and lower expectations from adults of their long term academic performance. How well would anyone fair in these conditions?
In addition, if one happens to be poor or has a disrupted home life, the challenges can become insurmountable. Who can keep a high GPA, have all the necessary extracurricular involvement, and hold a part-time job that helps put food on the table?

So yes, the playing field needs to be leveled. The cycle of discrimination needs to be broken. As much for the benefit of POC students as for that of the majority population. In the same way I feel that diversity in church is essential for my spiritual development, diversity in schools is crucial for my academic development. If I were trying to learn perspectives I already know, I could stay at home and save the $20 grand/year! So from my perspective, it is my university's responsibility to provide its students with the environment of broad and deep education that they are paying for!

For the record, the OSU admissions statistics state the following distributions for the incoming class of 2009:

African American/Black: 5.6%
Asian American: 6.4%
Hispanic/Latino: 2.8%
Native American: less than 1%
White: 78.7%
Other/Not Reported: 6%

How does that mesh with the numbers that the author sites? He says "a white student has a measly 12 percent shot [of getting in]" at a certain unspecified GPA. He implies the numbers come from a study from the University of Chicago, but I can find no such study, nor can I find record of aDr. Negai at that institution. I was able to find the study he opens his article with, but the Center for Equal Opportunitystudy has its own very specific motivations and goals (and not the ones you might assume). Also of note, their study was compiled by a Dr. Althea Nagai, with no affiliation to the University of Chicago. hmmm....
The rhetoric of this article is frustrating. Every journalist has biases, but this guys doesn't even try to hide them. Yeah, I do the same thing on this blog...but its a blog...with a clearly advertised perspective. In the article, the pro-policy viewpoint gets a small section at the end that barely begins to graze the surface of the deeper issues at hand. And despite the full front-page photo, not a single black person was interviewed for the report (yes, I facebook stalked the people mentioned in it).

I will grant that the UWeekly might not be paragon of journalistic rigor, but I take articles like these seriously because they carry with them a power to confirm the biases of the privileged majority. It affirms what some poor reader was already thinking, and allows her to nod in agreement: "yeah...I always thought those policies were unfair...I'm glad someone finally had the gust to say it." It is a narrow perspective, but she is probably too ignorant to even know that the argument is old, stale, and hackneyed. This article serves to further isolate and 'otherize' the POCs on campus, which ironically will help to fulfill the author's claim of low minority graduation rates. One thing is for sure about OSU admissions, they have filled their bigot quota.

Now, I'm going to go write a letter to the editor...and try to be polite.

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UPDATE (3/15/11):

UWeekly: Race Matters: The letter to the editor that I wrote to UWeekly (based on the 02/27/11 BTSF post) was published in this week's issue, as well as a response from the editor. It was published along with another letter that I thought was telling of the publication it's general content: 

1 comment:

  1. Man, the editor for that paper sounds like a jerk. I agree with him/her that these things need to be talked about, but they need to be talked about accurately. Way to completely miss the point, Editor Guy!


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