Bake sale shows ignorance

Kathlyn Hotynski

With the advent of a new holistic approach, the UW System’s admissions policy seeks to incorporate more complex socioeconomic factors into the admissions process. One so-called “hot button” issue that many conservatives have keyed in on is the inclusion of race and ethnicity as a factor for admission.

Conservative opponents of the new policy claim that it is little more than “reverse racism.” This is an over-simplification of a complex issue. On the surface, incorporating race into any screening process does seem arbitrary and undeniably unfair. This is why we must delve deeper than the surface. When discussing the issue of affirmative action, there are two areas one must consider: the cause (a systematic disenfranchisement of minorities) and the effect (the promotion of diversity).

The College Republicans recently ran a bake sale to protest the differing treatment of whites and minorities by the new System policy. Reading The Spectator coverage, I came across a quote from a College Republican which struck me as indicative of the problem with anti-affirmative action activists: “an African American from Milwaukee doesn’t bring different experiences than I do.” I say this quote is indicative of opponents of affirmative action not because I believe they all feel this way (I don’t), but because it demonstrates many middle-class, Midwestern, Caucasians’ obliviousness to the undercurrents of race in this country. For those who fall into this group, I’d encourage a simple examination of some data.

In a national poll by the non-partisan group Public Agenda, 51 percent of African-Americans said that they believe racism is a problem in the education system, this compared to 22 percent of Caucasians who feel the same way. Even supposing that racism is not a problem in education, doesn’t the disparity in this paradigm demonstrate that African-Americans bring different opinions and experiences to the education system than Caucasian students?

It should be clear to anyone who’s had a social science class that minorities have different experiences, and therefore, different opinions on a myriad of issues regardless of class, religion or family make-up. This can be seen in everything from political opinion to suspicion of the police to cultural taste and marketing preference.

The purpose of Wisconsin schools is not simply to train students for the work force; instead, higher education strives to give a more comprehensive education that broadens horizons and opens minds as it equips students with the knowledge they need for future careers.

It is not only in the interest of minority students to have a more inclusive admissions process, but also (maybe even more so) it is in the interest of Caucasians. A homogenous student population risks group-think and becomes immersed in its own perspective. That institution, ostensibly crippled by its own ethnocentrism, may become incapable of advancing beyond a certain point.

Indeed, it is not just the bleeding hearts that should be pushing for diversity on campus; it is the student body as a whole.

Many opponents of affirmative action see today’s America free of codified racism. The abolition of slavery occurred 150 years ago, Jim Crow has been smashed, legal segregation erased and rights have been made universal. They view America as a land of infinite equal opportunity where all people have a level playing field and achievement through personal merit is the supreme law of the land. This can be the only serious argument against affirmative action.

If one recognizes the problem, then one is forced to confront it; if one denies the problem, however, there is a tacit denial of the need for corrective policy. Again, to believe that there are no modern social barriers for minorities in this country speaks to the ignorance of many in regards to the system of power and privilege which obscures the truth.

As a whole, America has become demonstrably more tolerant and egalitarian in the past 200 years. Overt racism has become culturally unacceptable, tolerance is taught in schools and we celebrate the Civil Rights movement. Implicit racism (non-overt racism), however, is still regrettably ubiquitous and in many cases systemic. Those who deny this seem to ignore the facts. The most obvious challenges to the denial of implicit racism are statistical data and reason.

If one follows the belief that all Americans have an equal opportunity regardless of race, then it is possible to explain the statistics of various groups by arguing that the behavior demonstrated is due to attributes of these groups and not mitigating factors.

To put it plainly, if more blacks are incarcerated for violent crime than whites; presuming that the system is fair, this means that African-Americans are simply more violent than Caucasians. By that logic, women, who earn less money than men for the same job and hold less leadership positions in business, are simply not able to achieve or produce at the same levels as men. Or take Hispanics, who have the lowest high school graduation rates. If there aren’t significant social barriers to Hispanics seeking education, the obvious inference to make is that Hispanics are not as intelligent or as able to achieve academically as other races.

So where is the disconnect? Do most anti-affirmative action activists believe that Hispanics are unintelligent? Do most Republicans believe that women are unable to achieve? The answer is ‘no.’ Conservatives, who often accuse progressives of wanting to set policy with their emotions, are guilty of doing just that. Not delving into the murky depths of race relations in this country, Republicans take affirmative action at the surface value. They allow anger at perceived preferential treatment to guide their beliefs. They allow resentment to willfully blind them to the greater issue of race and diversity. In the end, this is the real cost of affirmative action.

Hawkins is the Public Relations Director for the College Democrats and a columnist for The Spectator.