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Mentoring the ONE


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An undergraduate student at my illustrious university wrote his opinion on "affirmative action". He stated that affirmative action is " A crude, unproductive, patronizing practice such as this does not suit an institution with the credentials that [big name university] has". he went on to say that affirmative action allows minority student to be 'lazy', basically he was saying that all minority student we less deserving of the admission the university gave them.

Personally shrug this off, however one of my students was deeply affected by it ( I am a TA for 65 students of whom 3 are black). Having worked so hard in high school, going above and beyond by leaps and bounds, to get to the university, He had no idea how to deal with it. Given the fact that I am black, he come to me for help.

How do i reassure him properly that he is very deserving to be here, more importantly, how do i help change the culture of the undergraduate students?

why do people not talk about legacy admission the same way the talk about affirmative action.

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I think what you said about legacy admissions is a good point. Can you look up what the exact policies are for which groups are given preference? For instance, back when there was something about affirmative action with the U of Michigan law school (2002, I believe), I looked up what their undergrad policies were. Basically, in their points scheme, there were four bonus points you could if you were of an underrepresented racial/ethnic group OR an underrepresented county in MI; other ways to get the bonus points were having a perfect ACT/SAT score or having desirable athletic skills. If students can discuss other reasons why a school may be deliberate about recruiting a particular demographic, maybe that will make it clearer why a school would deliberately seek out members of underrepresented races.

Plus, I'd imagine that a top-tier school, they don't need to have lower standards for anybody, they just have more qualified people than they have spots for, and of those they may selectively take those who can contribute to intellectual diversity in addition to aptitude. Maybe your student just needs to be reminded of how much he did accomplish, and how most people are ignorant of these things.

And where there is special selection: I remember when I was a freshman at a big state school, I was confused that there were special programs and remedial classes for (mostly urban African American) students. My reasoning at the time was, "Why would you admit students if you know they're not prepared to succeed?" At the time, I didn't fully appreciate that there could be students with excellent intellectual potential who nevertheless came in with weak academic skills because they were trapped in under-served school districts. Now, because of this awareness, I get why universities (maybe not Ivy-Leagues, but most schools) would chose to invest more heavily in students of color even when it does mean "lowering the standards", because once such students are caught up they have an important and otherwise unheard perspective to offer. This is all contrary to notion of "color blindness", which seems to be prevalent in many a white suburban community, so depending on the offending student's background, he may just be genuinely ignorant of all the issues. Maybe there could be an actual fact-based discussion of the topic? A panel or Socratic seminar or something?

Good luck!

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I study colonial Latin American art and the history of images of racism and its always amazing to me that even in courses DEDICATED to these discussions how hard it is to overcome some of these opinions. Where was the student's opinion presented? If it was published in a school newspaper maybe you could help your other student write an editorial response. Even if it wasn't a newspaper article might be a good way to get discussion started. Does your school have research groups/institutes devoted to issues of race and higher education? If so you could maybe talk with them about organizing a lecture series or a colloquim around these issues in your specific discipline (Emory had a lecture on racial discrimination in their dental program this fall).

Edited by Shelley Burian
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You can't single-handedly change the student culture. Fool's errand.

But, it might be important to note that if we look at sheer numbers, the prime beneficiaries of affirmative action have actually been...white women. One must take it back to the 1960s. Prior to that period, there were limits to the number of Jewish-Americans admitted to the Ivy League, the Ivies (for undergrad) were all-male, Hispanics, Native Americans and Asians...who were they?, most college educated African-Americans exclusively attended HBCUs, low-income whites...forget it. Unless you are white, anglo-saxon, protestant, male AND a blue-blood, YOU (or you parents) have benefitted.

So, you can at least give the "muppet" food for thought...even if for a moment.

As to why no one talks about legacy or other groups that have been on the receiving end of AA? Well, despite the proclamation of some, we don't live in a post-racial society. Race, more than gender (and even class) ever could, still ruffles feathers.

Edited by Chai_latte
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