Evan Schwartz: College applications in a post-race world

In a recent editorial for The Boston Globe, columnist Neal Gabler railed against what he referred to as “the college admissions scam” and a perceived bias in admission board selection against, well, everyone. Gabler made it seem as though anyone who is not a privileged white high school student has no chance of getting into an Ivy League or comparable university.

Such a view, while somewhat facile, is not without merit. College campuses as a whole are not the most racially diverse places, a trend that highlights a similar disparity among socio-economic classes. Ethnic and racial biases seem to exist in the admissions process, compounded by the economic advantages that often break down on racial lines. GW’s racial breakdown is not reflective of the United States at large. College Board statistics show the University is a majority-white school, and only around 6 percent of its students are black. Conversely, the United States as a country is around 12 percent black, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Hispanic students make up around 8 percent of the GW student body, but account for more than 15 percent of the U.S. population.

Racial identity has been changing dramatically in the last few years, perhaps punctuated by the election of a mixed-race president of the United States. The concept of “whiteness” in this country has become more complicated, especially given the influx of Hispanic immigrants and the decreasing stigma attached to mixed-race couples. Over a third of the U.S. population is now composed of minority groups, and the Census Bureau predicts that white people will have a far less pronounced majority in the next several decades.

If this University wants its student body to reflect the diversity of the nation, then obviously those numbers must change.

But such metrics of racial and ethnic identification may be outdated within the next decade. In the future, the new issue of “race” will invariably become class-based, if it hasn’t already. A diverse GW at the beginning of next decade should not only strive to account for different ethnic groups, but also for a more representative income breakdown among its student body.

Racism still exists in this country in a real way – though it doesn’t have to exist in the college process – but what underlines admissions perhaps even stronger than race is class. From the SAT and its purported biases against the economically disadvantaged, to the preference given to children of alumni, to the application cost itself, college is still geared toward the rich. According to a recent Washington Post article, applicants asking for financial aid put themselves at a disadvantage compared to students able to pay full tuition. Admissions officers even claim they can guess the likelihood of an applicant being able to pay full tuition just from checking the applicant’s home zip code.

In the past, schools have instituted policies of affirmative action to combat racial discrepancies in admissions. But in recent years, affirmative action has become a controversial policy – one that uses a “justifiable” inequality to solve a different inequality. Race will no longer be the issue in coming years. Colleges need to institute an even wider, “need-blind” policy: no names, no zip codes, and no hint of economic status when it comes down to evaluating an applicant. In short, students should be judged on merit alone, without any other factors that could lead to bias.

In a sense, diversity must diversify. Our country has a constantly changing racial identity, but we are still plagued by class issues. The lines between white, black and Latino will blur in the future, but the divide between poor and rich continues to grow. Raw statistics can illuminate a problem when it comes to racial representation, but GW must become more accessible to all people, especially those who would not normally be able to afford a private education.

The writer, a junior majoring in journalism and mass communication, is a Hatchet columnist.

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