Merit over melanin

By Leigh Greaney

The federal government wants University of Massachusetts students to slap a label on their identity via SPIRE. They’ve updated their system and now allow for students to choose more than one race/ethnicity to identify with. After logging in, SPIRE’s home page is replaced with a bubbled display of questions for students to “voluntarily self-identify” their race/ethnicity, and it is promised that any given information will not be used to discriminate.

This is where the gray area fades over the black and white. Discrimination is distinguishing a person by exposing difference. Classifying a person by the color of their skin is discrimination. It’s racism.

Although, it can be beneficial to society by certain means to establish these differences – it also can be extremely caustic.

The patterns that exist within racial percentages are not something to be ignored, and can be used for educational purposes. However, the dissection of the statistics needs to define a means. Is the purpose to evolve and to end racism and discrimination? Or, is it simply to sink into the pessimism that holds this country’s scale is tipped in favor of the majority?

The most prominent arguments toward the useful nature of classifying students by race lead to the conversation of affirmative action that has been going on for years. Some think it’s racist against the white population. Some think it’s helping to break down the monopoly of white-centric higher education.

Robert K. Fullinwider, a senior public policy researcher at the University of Maryland, believes affirmative action “means positive steps taken to increase the representation of women and minorities in the area of employment, education and business from which they have been historically excluded.” Fullinwider also believes African Americans and Hispanics need it the most.

However, it is crucial to ask: Who is affirmative action for? Is it only for African Americans and Hispanics? Why should it not benefit all minority groups?

In a 1995 Stanford Law Review, Paul Brest and Miranda Oshige asked that question and came to the conclusion that there is “no single answer.” For Stanford Law School, affirmative action meant if a student is African American, Native American, Mexican American or Puerto Rican, they were preferred to other applicants – sometimes chosen over those with higher test scores.

Asian Americans, who in 1995 made up 9 percent of the Stanford Law student population, were not involved with the affirmative action process, yet their acceptance into the university was on the rise then. Asian Americans represented around 12 percent of the school’s student body in 2008, according to Stanford Law’s website. Therefore, it is possible for the acceptance percentage of minorities to rise without affirmative action.

Affirmative action, even with its advantageous aims for minorities, has also proven to do the opposite. If a student is accepted into a school solely based on race over a student with higher credentials, it is possible that the student might have difficulty adjusting to the competitive university environment. The student might have excelled much more significantly at a different university – one that fit his or her application’s strength.

Acceptance into higher education should be based on merit – not melanin.

The need for campus diversity in culture, class, life experience, personal skills, interests and background is vital. However, that does not need to circle around race. The color of someone’s skin cannot determine how much of an educational contribution that person is to his or her community.

Application forms should not require race, ethnicity or gender. They should include the things that actually matter in an educational environment. They should ask test scores, GPAs, community service achievements, awards received and anything that promotes a healthy form of competition – one that everyone has equal access to and can excel at.

All application forms include an essay section where prospective students are asked to sell themselves to the university they’re applying to. This is the proper forum for a student to address issues of race and ethnicity, and why that makes them a good candidate if they think it plays a part in their identity.

Some believe identity is skin deep. It’s not whether they’re Cape Verdean or Latino – it’s about the way they move around in this world and how they affect their surroundings.

Human beings do not choose their race (or their gender, for that matter). They choose actions. They choose whether or not they want to work themselves into higher education.

If the race question is not asked, it loses its importance. If the goal of affirmative action is to create equality, then it should do so. By erasing the label, everyone is put onto the same playing field and can prove themselves. That’s equality.

The day that race becomes moot is the day that racism ends and equality begins. With the exclusion of surveys such as the SPIRE inquiry, that day will come sooner.

Leigh Greaney is a Collegian columnist. She can be reached at [email protected]