Phillip Ensler: Continue to factor race in admissions

Phillip Ensler
Media Credit: Hatchet File Photo
Phillip Ensler

The Supreme Court propelled the debate over affirmative action into the spotlight by announcing on Feb. 21 it would hear the case of a white female who claims she was not admitted to the University of Texas because of her race.

The University of Texas relies on a multifaceted admissions process. The top 10 percent of students at each high school in Texas are automatically admitted to UT. Anyone who is not initially admitted can then apply – an application process for which race is used as one of the factors to select students. Abigail Fisher’s court case has hurtled to the country’s highest court, stating that she was rejected from UT because she is white and that the university prioritized accepting prospective students of other races.

There would be dire consequences if the high court were to ban – or even further limit – the consideration of race in college admissions.

If the Supreme Court rules that considering race in admissions is illegal or unconstitutional, GW would no longer be able to foster racial diversity on campus.

Achieving a racially diverse student body is important for both moral and practical reasons. At GW we value giving students from all backgrounds the opportunity to excel. We benefit as a university from having such diversity, as it allows us to become more open-minded individuals and learn to collaborate with people of all backgrounds.

It is easy to point to the election of the first African American president and argue that all people, regardless of their race, have a fair shot.

But anyone who makes that assertion is surely not living in reality.

The unemployment rate for African Americans is nearly double the national average and the per capita income of minorities is drastically lower than that of their Caucasian contemporaries.

Such differences between whites and minorities unequivocally suggest that we have not achieved the equal society we seek.

Some opponents of race-conscious affirmative action believe that looking at an applicant’s socioeconomic status would be a fairer way of achieving a diverse student body. They argue that because there is a correlation between race and income, looking at the latter will effectively lead to a racially diverse student body.

But such an approach would be insufficient. Efforts to improve diversity through solely considering economic status don't work out; more white people fall below the poverty line than people of any other race. Denying the admissions team the right to look at race would hinder their ability to ensure enough minority students are being admitted.

Although race-conscious admissions are an imperfect solution, it is still recognized by GW as a useful tool in helping to diversify the student body.

The University uses a holistic approach to evaluate potential students, including looking at an applicant’s race. Because GW seeks to have a diverse incoming class, being a racial minority might enhance an applicant’s chances of being admitted.

The harsh consequences of using a colorblind process were seen when the University of California at Berkeley looked at socioeconomic status instead of race and African American enrollment in the entering class fell by about 60 percent.

The Supreme Court has served a fundamental role in advancing racial equality in our nation’s schools. Landmark rulings such Brown v. Board of Education have allowed us to recover from the original sins of slavery and Jim Crow. Hopefully this same court does not reverse these advances and ban race-conscious affirmative action in college admissions.

Phillip Enlser, a senior majoring in political science, is a Hatchet columnist.

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