Affirmative action efforts lack economic dimension

A recent column in the New York Times by Stephen L. Carter on affirmative action got me thinking about the race and gender distribution in academia and beyond. And then, an article from my alma mater, Baylor University, made me laugh out loud.

In the latest issue of the Baylor Line, President John Lilley stated that the university’s recruitment efforts are being refocused this year to reach two specific communities—men and Baptists. Women and other denominations have run amuck on campus. Previously barred from attending universities, women now outnumber men nationwide at institutions of higher learning. It seems the tables of affirmative action are turning.

OK, so Baylor isn’t exactly a microcosm of America. Tell me something I don’t know. But, there have been remarkable strides in minority enrollment across the country. The Times states, “More than half a million more black students are in college today than in the early 1990s.” This is assuredly a good thing, however, it’s not good enough. While the black middle class is growing, the gap between rich and poor blacks is as well. As Carter so aptly puts it, “Those who suffer most from the legacy of racial oppression are not competing for spaces in the entering classes of the nation’s most selective colleges. Millions of them are not finishing high school.”

The answer to leveling the playing field is not to lower standards for minority students, but to promote developmental affirmative action. Preferential policies quite frankly are insulting to minorities.

They imply that whites have some innate advantage that can only be corrected by lowering standards for the rest of the applicant pool. This is absurd. Emily and Greg’s intelligence is more indicative of an economic advantage than a biological one. The idea that middle-class, suburban-born whites have “worked harder” than a child of a teenage mother in the inner city is laughable. But the gap between their test scores is not.

Programs such as afterschool enrichment opportunities in low-income neighborhoods, and summer camps that target the sciences or other fields where minorities are underrepresented will bring out the best in minority students. Our attention should go toward raising the bar, not lowering it.

After all, if affirmative action isn’t helping poor blacks, but only making an easier path for middle-class minorities, then what is it really accomplishing beyond a false sense of diversity? We can’t settle, as one blogger seems happy to do, for an definition of affirmative action success that revolves around an increased number of  “African-Americans (and women and other minorities) represented in elite colleges and professions” with no regard to economic status. Sure, there may be more ethnic variety, but the distribution of poverty and wealth will continue to divide our nation. The solution isn’t as simple as meeting a quota of minorities. If we dare to achieve true equality in our nation, we must make a conscious, long-range effort to open doors for impoverished youths of all races.