Affirmative Action Detrimental to All
Issue   |   Wed, 09/12/2012 - 00:21

On the College website, I read the headline “Amherst Files Amicus Brief in Supreme Court Diversity Case.” Though I was not surprised that the College would support the respondent in Fisher v. University of Texas, I was appalled to see that the College prided itself in leading a coalition of so-called elite institutions in supporting the discriminatory practice of affirmative action.

In supporting the University of Texas in this case, President Carolyn “Biddy” Martin has emphasized the “educational importance of dialogue among individuals of diverse backgrounds and experiences.” However, what President Martin seems to misunderstand are the actual day-to-day experiences of students on campus. Affirmative action does not inspire dialogue, but rather silences it by justifying prejudices against minority students.

Prior to coming here, I wasn’t labeled as a minority — I was simply Katrin. The fact that I am a Cuban immigrant had not been the defining feature of my identity, but as soon as I stepped on campus, it altered the way faculty and students interacted with me. My first advising meeting at the College left me confused; instead of discussing my academic interests and goals, my adviser felt the need to discuss my ethnic background and to ask about my outsider’s opinion of the American political system, a perplexing question considering I had lived in Florida since I was six. This would be the first of many such interactions. One particularly memorable situation occurred later that year when a floormate of mine, angered by events earlier in the day, screamed out in frustration that the College should accept fewer minority students since many were “idiots.” Perhaps remembering all the help I had given him in a class we shared that semester, he then turned to me and said that I was the exception, I wasn’t one of those students, and I actually deserved to be here. Though his words hurt me at the time, in retrospect, I can understand him. He was wrong is assuming that minority students are not as intelligent as other students, but that incorrect assumption was based on the fact that affirmative action practices do allow for more flexible evaluations of minority applicant’s credentials. This creates a system in which some applicants’ shortcomings are excused without proof of extenuating circumstances, thus creating an undue burden for other applicants competing for admission.

While I could make the argument that affirmative action programs are hurtful to white and Asian students, the truth is that it is most hurtful to the very students it attempts to help. It creates an atmosphere in which highly-accomplished minority students question themselves, wondering whether they would have been accepted had race not been part of the admissions process. There is value in understanding the circumstances that have influenced the lives of students, but it is not okay to assume that an applicant’s racial-ethnic identity defines their experience.

Affirmative action robs minority applicants of agency by positing on them the label of “Other.” It creates the assumption that because a student is part of an underrepresented minority group, he must have different perspectives on issues of academic significance than students that make up the majority. Affirmative action rests on the false assumption that diversity of race creates diversity of thought and that a lack of racial diversity mandates a lack of intellectual diversity. This assumption is insulting to the students of the College because it assumes 1) that we are unable to divorce ourselves intellectually from our personal experiences in order to think critically about issues, and that 2) we, as members of specific racial groups, are homogenous masses that need to be jolted with personal stories completely different from our own in order to fully engage in intellectual exchanges.

Contrary to the College’s expressed belief that diversity enriches student life, a walk around campus proves otherwise. In Valentine, for example, it is easy to identify which three tables are the international student tables, that the predominantly white jocks sit in the back and that Korean students have an affinity for chatting amongst themselves. The College has developed a self-segregating culture. Getting people of different backgrounds together does not automatically lead to positive interactions. For engaged communities to be created, members must feel that they have something of value in common. But when admissions policies put an emphasis on race and ethnicity, they implicitly suggest members of different racial-ethnic groups have very little, if anything, of value in common. In other words, by insisting on diversity for diversity’s sake, the College has created pockets of minority students within the larger white population rather than a community of collaborative learning.

In writing this article, I have purposefully avoided the use of statistical data in favor of anecdotal and observational data. I have not done this because of a lack of data supporting my argument; in fact, research has repeatedly proven the failure of affirmative action programs by showing that acceptances into institutions of higher learning do not ensure success for minority students since many drop out as a result of academic and social stresses. The reason I chose to include these personal stories was to provide a human face to this problem, to show that this is not something that happens far, far away in other colleges and universities, but right here in Amherst. It is for this same reason that I chose not discuss the multitude of other problems caused by affirmative action (like creating incentives for minority applicants to cheat the system or reinforcing skewed power relationships by supporting the idea of the White Man’s Burden). However, I encourage you not to take me at my word, but to look up the information on your own and to discuss this issue. My hope in writing this has been to create enough of a student voice that it cannot be ignored, that President Martin and the Board of Trustees may be forced to reevaluate their commitment to affirmative action so that the next time there is a Fisher v. University of Texas before the Supreme Court, they file in favor of the petitioner rather than the respondent.

Anonymous (not verified) says:
Wed, 09/12/2012 - 06:13

Australians call for sanctions against SA

The new South African government's racist policies and affirmative action has led to calls for sanctions against SA.
The National Chairman of the Australian Protectionist Party, Andrew Phillips called upon both the Federal Labor government and the Opposition to unanimously support the re-introduction of sanctions upon South Africa.
"It is becoming increasingly clear the situation in South Africa warrants international attention once again", Phillips said. "Despite noble announcements by the African National Congress (ANC) of its intent to make South Africa an egalitarian society in which all people could live in harmony and have equal opportunity-the reality is quite different."

His calls follow Woolworths SA asking that only "African Black candidates" apply for certain posts in job advertisements and South African Airways saying it will only appoint black pilots to its cadet pilot training programme.
Phillips said "Australia is dragging its feet in recognising the reality of the New South Africa. Euro MPs Barry Madlener and Lucas Hartong have already called for the EU to cease giving millions in aid to South Africa and have already raised the issue of what can only be described as cultural genocide in that country." See our story "EU take on SAA in pilot racism".
The Australian Protectionist Party recognises the right of all people, irrespective of racial, cultural or religious background to a safe homeland, self determination and the opportunity to control their national destiny in an increasingly globalised world.
"With the advent of so-called majority rule, minorities such as the Afrikaner communities are experiencing ever increasing disadvantage and persecution based on the colour of their skin" Phillips said.
"The South African government has done little to protect the lives of the nation's farmers and their families, actively promotes the on-going Anglicisation of the nation's government sector with the current debate of the "Languages Bill" and has reduced an estimated 10% of the nation's Afrikaner community to the poverty line through the introduction of a race based Affirmative Action policy - a situation President Zuma described as both "shocking and surprising", yet has done nothing to address".
"Australia was quick to take the moral high-ground against South Africa decades ago, now is not the time to expose our hypocrisy by refusing to re-introduce sanctions and apply meaningful diplomatic pressure upon the ANC regime," Phillips said.

Daniel Diner (not verified) says:
Wed, 09/12/2012 - 08:22

It is odd that you fault Affirmative Action with unfortunate experiences you've had at the hands of bigoted, close-minded people. Are you suggesting that these trends would somehow change if the college was made more exclusive again? I should predict quite the opposite, actually, as there would be even fewer minorities and they would be treated as even more 'exotic.' I think that all of this article is very naive.

Katrin Marquez (not verified) says:
Wed, 09/12/2012 - 12:05

Though I respect your opinion and the fact that you actually took the time to read my article, I have just one request: do not assume that the people portrayed in both those stories are "bigoted, close-minded people." They are people I care deeply about. That is why I tried to include as little identifying information as possible, I wanted to ensure that they would not be victimized because of words they uttered during unguarded moments. Even if you do not respect my opinion, please respect those people you know nothing about.

Daniel Diner (not verified) says:
Wed, 09/12/2012 - 13:21

I think you've missed my point.
It's irrelevant whether your friend said that "the College should accept fewer minority students since many were 'idiots.' ” out of an uncharacteristic burst of bigotry or because he is naturally a bigot. What's relevant is that such a thing is not correct and it ought not be said. And as you wrote yourself, such things are said so frequently that they impair the experience of minority students on campus (your frustrations, exactly). But the way to correct for this isn't to punish minority students by accepting them at an even smaller rate. That would be like correcting a rape culture by removing the victims and letting the rapists be. The way to correct for this by increasing tolerance and understanding. You wrote about culturally-based cliques - I am in heated agreement with you that they are problematic. But they aren't going to somehow go away if we take in less minority students. Quite the opposite!
Also, you didn't address any of the reasons for why affirmative action actually exists. I think I would have been more sympathetic towards this had you addressed flaws in the program, but you failed to do that at all. All of your complaints are faults of the society which the program tries to help. It is that society that you ought direct grievances towards.

BD (not verified) says:
Thu, 09/13/2012 - 11:58

Contrary to all evidence, you claim her friend's statement about so many minority students being "idiots" is not correct. I agree, the word "idiot" is wholly inappropriate. But it is certainly true that many minority students at prestigious schools who were admitted with lower test scores and fewer academic achievements than other ethnic groups struggle and drop out at a higher rate. This is plainly because many, intellectually, should not be in the school competing with the likes of others of greater intellectual capacity and achievement. This is a problem solely caused by affirmative action, and cannot be corrected by increasing admittance of more unqualified students. The unfortunate side effect of affirmative action is that others question the capabilities of all minorities at great schools, even those who clearly deserve to be their on an intellectual and academic level. Its a stigma that is both wrong but based in fact. And it is frustrating...when I was in law school, for instance, a handful of African American students held up class nearly everyday asking basic questions. Do I know that they were affirmative action enrollees? No. Did it make me question them and others? Sure. Those students were admitted to a school at a higher level than they were capable and it hindered the learning of the rest of the class. The point is not to admit less minorities for the sake of admitting less minorities. The point is to admit those only those of any color who has the ability to succeed and compete with the rest of the students. Affirmative action hurts minority students more than it helps. Finally, don't fall back on the "society" excuse. You can justify discrimination based on historical practices all you want, but its still discrimination nonetheless.

AH (not verified) says:
Mon, 09/17/2012 - 01:17

This is incredible. Reevaluate your perception. Maybe the measure of the concept of (not merely word) 'intelligence' that you use (yes, you are speaking from a particular understanding of the word) stems from a White, privileged social history, and the fact that you use your understanding of the term as if it were an objective truth (granted to you by God, surely,) is racist. WAKE UP

AH (not verified) says:
Mon, 09/17/2012 - 11:14

Amherst Student, any way you can get better formatting for responses to comments? maybe make them indented?

admin says:
Mon, 09/17/2012 - 11:28

We're working on fixing the way that comments are added, but since none of the editors know much code it's taking some time. We apologize for the inconvenience and hope to have a better system up in the next few weeks.

Joe (not verified) says:
Wed, 10/17/2012 - 15:01

If we take your argument to an extreme then we can't define any value system at all. All values must be a product of social history of some sort. The world is what it is. Deal with it.

J (not verified) says:
Wed, 10/17/2012 - 20:07

How would removing affirmative action punish minority students? They are already being given an unfair and baseless advantage in admissions. Admitting students based on race (or with race as one of the main criteria) perpetuates separation between races--it is comparable to admitting students based on hair color: "we give redheaded students preferential admission because they bring a different perspective than blondes, brunettes, etc." Just as it would be ridiculous to group students based on hair color, it is impossible to group students based on race, unless you do consider races homogenous groups that are distinct from other races, which, to me, sounds like racism.

Adrian Castro (not verified) says:
Wed, 09/12/2012 - 16:36

I agree with Dan here. You let your personal experience color your argument, which would have been fine if you, as Dan said, had addressed the actual flaws of affirmative action.
I also think you misunderstand the goals of affirmative action. Affirmative action is not, in and of itself, the solution to discrimination, and is not meant to immediately inspire dialogue. In reality, affirmative action is a tool used to create a situation where an open diverse dialogue can actually occur. The onus to start the dialogue is both on the student and on the school, and this where things start to get iffy.
It seems like your experience with this dialogue has been mostly negative. While this is certainly unfortunate, you can't make the claim that your experience represents the norm. I have had multiple conversations about race and class and Amherst College, and while some have left me frustrated and angry, most have been positive, and I've learned something from each and everyone. Now, I can't claim that my experience is normal either, but it at least proves the point that the situation is not as one dimensional as you claim.

Max Holt (not verified) says:
Wed, 09/12/2012 - 17:50

You've either read the wrong article or your reading comprehension needs work. Try to read the entire article and the point being made by the author rather than focusing on an analogy that is a miniscule detail in an overall outstanding article. Mr. Diner; you may also want to reflect on your own anti-white bigotry which is blindingly obvious in your post. Regardless of how stealth bigots like Mr. Diner and Mr. Castro try to justify affirmative action, AA programs are still discrimination.

William Ruhm (not verified) says:
Wed, 09/12/2012 - 19:25

What Affirmative action policies come down to is an escape from whites' shame with regards to our oppressive racial past. The label "diversity" has somehow come to be coveted by institutions (both universities and corporations). It is coveted, however, not because it has been proven effective but because it gives these institutions an avenue to distance themselves from from the atrocities of our racial past. Affirmative Action is then accepted by minorities who view as a necessary form of repayment, a compensation for centuries of racial injustice of white Americans. And it is fair; whites have prospered at the expense of minorities for centuries and it is completely "justified" for members of these groups to feel entitled to some form of repayment. But, as Katrin noted, statistics don't indicate that Affirmative Action increases college graduation rates among minorities. If anything statistics indicate the opposite. If we whites really care about racial justice in America why haven't we invested in early childhood intervention programs for minority neighborhoods, why do we look on comfortably from a distance while African Americans are sent to prison for drug crimes that earn white college students a mere slap on the wrist? It comes down to this: Do Americans want what is "fair" for minorities or do we want that which will effectively lift minorities out of poverty and into equality?

Publius (not verified) says:
Thu, 09/13/2012 - 09:33

Did you ever consider that it might have been the white American culture along with the white British culture that gave birth to the movement to abolish slavery? Ever wonder why these societies were the first in the history of human culture to really do something about slavery? Did you? Slavery and the human condition have existed side by side since day one, until...until when? Until why? Is it even remotely possible that the ideals expressed in our founding documents had something to do with this transition? I'll answer my own question. No, you never considered that possibility.

William Ruhm (not verified) says:
Thu, 09/13/2012 - 22:46

Hold up, was this in response to my comment? I mean I think it is but I actually can't tell since what you're saying has nothing to do with I was saying...first off America and Britain abolished slavery because of international pressures created by the enlightened notions of the French Revolution...In fact throughout history American whites have pursued racial justice for far from benevolent reasons: we allowed the civil rights movement to take place out of fear that the international image fostered by our continued racial oppression would make us look bad in the eyes of third world nations at risk of being pulled into Soviet influence...this is an accepted fact among black intellectuals (James Baldwin, Cornel West...ect).

PP (not verified) says:
Thu, 09/13/2012 - 20:23

"But, as Katrin noted, statistics don't indicate that Affirmative Action increases college graduation rates among minorities. If anything statistics indicate the opposite." I'm interested in what you mean by this. I'm not familiar with the statistics, it is possible that affirmative action would reduce the % of minorities that successfully graduate from college by allowing weaker students to be accepted. But is that the point? Logically it would have to increase the total number of minority graduates (assuming that the graduation rate for students admitted without affirmative action remains the same).

William Ruhm (not verified) says:
Thu, 09/13/2012 - 23:18

I'm sorry I meant proportionally speaking (with regard to %). Yes, Affirmative Action does increase graduation rates but only by a meager amount. (You can look up the statistics yourself and make your own judgments as to how meager this effect is on college graduation rates among minorities...from the statistics I have seen on periods when certain public Universities had/didn't have Affirmative Action programs the effect of AA appears to be very minuscule indeed but don't take my word for that, look up the statistics and come to your own conclusions.)

Let me be clear about my opinion on this issue. If the alternative to AA is nothing, no action from the white community to uplift our black brethren, then yes, Affirmative Action may have a positive net effect, although Katrin's article provides a compelling argument against even this moderate assertion. But when we compare the impact of Affirmative Action to the likely impact of a more substantial reform, the impact of whites actually rebuilding the infrastructure of poor, inner-city, predominantly black neighborhoods from the bottom up (lets face it Affirmative action helps-on average-the middle class black students that need it the is a top down policy), of investing in the education of black youth rather than pouring money into the prisons that hold them for violations of ridiculously strict drug laws and drug law enforcement in the inner city. Honestly it would cost a tiny fraction of the money we spend to "spread democracy" oversees to really invest in this way...but we whites don't do it. Why? I think its because political expediency and fiscal conservatism motivate us to find the easiest way out of our dilemma of white shame, out of our guilt for the atrocities of our racial past...and for the reasons I noted before, that quick easy escape is Affirmative Action.

george h (not verified) says:
Mon, 10/01/2012 - 18:26

We must end the myth of collective guilt and punishment based on DNA. Whites today are not responsible for crimes committed by Whites centuries ago. You dont punish the sons for the crimes of their great great great grandfathers. Todays whites are no more guilty of crimes that they did not commit then today's Muslims are guilty of crimes committed by Muslims for the past 1400 years.

Jordan Young (not verified) says:
Wed, 09/12/2012 - 19:32

So you believe that affirmative action should be eliminated, based off of the simple fact that there are many minority students who drop out based off of "social stresses" and "academic pressure? The problem with that assumption is that although there are some of us who may wonder if we would have gotten in if race weren't a factor, those who would drop out would do so whether they actually deserved to be there or not. And it's not that race automatically gives a different perspective per se, it's the experiences associated with being a minority of any kind that give a different perspective. I believe the College's mission is noble, trying to gather people from many different kinds of backgrounds, so that we can learn from each other. It is our choice whether to delve into each other's experiences and learn about what they've experienced or not. It was one of the main reasons I came to Amherst in the first place. It is ultimately the decision of the student whether they want to partake in the experience, and if they wouldn't, leave them be. But I'm not going to let someone's personal biases keep me from continuing to make friends all over the US and the world.

The thing is, you grew up in an area where there is a sizeable number of people like you. I grew up in an area where there are not many minorities, and those that are are more often than not immigrants or foreign nationals (I am neither). I think you're just getting a taste of what some of us have been going through our entire lives, as there has rarely been a day in my life where I know I wasn't treated differently by my peers because of my skin color. That being said, I do believe affirmative action needs to exist, but I also believe in some of its aspects it has been taken to the logical extreme. I don't believe the solution to the problem is eliminating affirmative action based on race. It would do you well to also remind your friend that it's not proper to make a judgment of an entire category of people based off of a few spotted examples, because one cannot assume they know what the other person has been through in their life. It just happens to be easier to segregate among ourselves because there is often a shared language or other cultural factor at the root of this supposed "segregation". Try to think about it from the perspective of a person in my situation, or the population of Amherst who has experienced the same kind of thing in their lives.

Thank you.

Noah (not verified) says:
Wed, 09/12/2012 - 22:21

So, I do appreciate you discussing your personal experiences with affirmative actions, but the reason why we need affirmative action goes deeper than what's discussed here. In college admissions, as in the job market, AA isn't just a means to expand the base of opinions and get different perspectives. AA is a policy designed to allow minority communities to accumulate the cultural capital that has been systematically denied to them in the past, at first by de jure and now by de facto institutional racism. The fact of the matter is that racism still exists in the world, and it is a global problem.

As for anecdotal evidence: some of the smartest and most skilled people I know got here as a result of affirmative action. Without AA, the college would have seen their SAT scores and moved on. Things like good standardized tests scores, and even writing/reading proficiency, are not the result of intelligence but of cultural capital. AA envisions a future in which that cultural capital is evenly distributed and everyone has an equal shot; without it, everyone doesn't.

DEK (not verified) says:
Fri, 09/14/2012 - 19:00

In a country where a person could go from poverty to success in a single generation -- as my wife's father went in a single generation from one of many children of a hard-scrabble tobacco farmer to a prominent Boston surgeon -- I fail to see the justice of taking an opportunity from someone who has earned it and give it to someone who has neither earned it nor personally suffered any wrong -- and certainly no wrong at the hands of the person whom you are depriving of his opportunity. And of course being one of nine children on a poor farm in the hills was comparatively favorable when you consider what conditions were like in most of East Asia a half-century ago. If white-preference laws are bad, then so are black-preference. Racial preference breeds hate, because it is natural and healthy to hate injustice. And it is an injustice to punish those who have done no wrong.

And there is no reason to assume that any sort of capital ought be evenly distributed. We tried that in the last century, to bloody and unfortunate consequence.

A.Giuliani (not verified) says:
Sat, 09/15/2012 - 15:54

Well said, DEK.

A non-liberal, ... (not verified) says:
Thu, 09/13/2012 - 04:04

As an international student who has previously been little exposed to justifications for AA, I find the idea of AA being a necessary "repayment" for past injustices done towards minorities quite an appalling justification. In my own country many injustices have been committed (and sometimes still are) towards people of my own ethnicity as a minority, yet we do not cry out for "compensation". We simply cry out for equal treatment. As in, REALLY EQUAL treatment, not the thinly-veiled anti-white, anti-Asian, anti-Jewish bigotry expressed in AA. Since the people to be "compensated" are not the actual people who were actually enslaved and discriminated against, what this results is a culture of entitlement in minority communities which does little to lift them out of poverty in the long term. And among the people who do work hard and achieve something, bad news if you're a member of the majority (white), or worse, if you're a member of an overrepresented minority (read: Jews and East Asians): Sorry, comrade, in the interests of equality no racial group can be more advanced than others - we have to punish you for your hard work!

Thanks to AA, if you are an Asian, then being a high school senior applying for college is one of the most harrowing experiences: not only do you have to express yourself in a sufficiently "unique" way so as to fulfill diversity requirements, you have to also achieve what most other Asians do: SAT scores higher than 2300, perfect grades, instrumental proficiency on piano or violin, and a boatload of extracurricular activities - all of that being the bare minimum. You are held to a higher standard than the rest. But why? Is it because Asians parents are significantly richer than other races, enabling them to give to their kids more than others? Is it because Asians were treated in an even more superior manner than whites in the past, making them prime candidates to do "repayment"? Nope. But just because Asians are on average, somehow more academically successful than the rest, no matter the income bracket, then they are racially discriminated against and held to a higher standard.

Worse, in the context of a college, AA sows seeds of doubt among those minority students who actually are high-achieving, and would probably get admitted into the college even without AA. As the writer raised in this article: am I here because they view me as a truly promising intellectual, or am I here merely so that I can give a different, exotic flavor to the mixed ice cream? And lastly, because AA students are often less academically prepared, the probability of them struggling in their classwork rises. When this fact is seen by non-AA students, it only serves to reinforce stereotypes that members of certain minorities are less intelligent than others.

The idea that this college loves diversity is only half-true: it loves diversity of race, of ethnicity, of class background, but it sure doesn't love the idea of diversity of opinion. In more concrete terms, it loves a black person who can wax lyrical about racial and class oppression in the way (mostly white) cultural Marxists have done so for the past 60 years or so. It doesn't like a black person/other minority who actually disagrees with all of this "repayment" and "white guilt" nonsense and speaks out against it. Similarly, the college probably expects me, an international student, to listen to these revelations about how great affirmative action and every other edifice of liberal thought is, absorb them as some form of enlightenment, and become a prophet in my home country. The college doesn't want me to bring the truly diverse perspective that maybe what you call "progress" isn't really progress at all - but merely change, bought at a price. Unfortunately for me, this means that I always have to avoid discussing sensitive topics such as race, religion, or politics - because my two options are 1) to blatantly lie, and 2) express my genuine opinions which may make me ostracized, not merely by friends, but perhaps even the faculty. I really fear that expressing my disapproval for some assumptions of liberal thought may lead me to be denied awards or research funding.

And I chuckle quietly at Daniel Diner's comments and invocation of that favorite liberal word, "bigotry". Apparently he has forgotten about his own inept tirade of anti-religious bigotry proudly spewed and defended last year in this very publication, something which made me, a freshman, genuinely afraid of being a Christian in this college. I thought that the majority of the student body had an attitude towards religion and religious believers like Mr. Diner's - that religion is such an obviously stupid and false thing that anyone who believes it must be deserving of derision and mockery. Thankfully that turned out not be true. But Diner's persistent hypocrisy makes me laugh incredulously at his ridiculous posturing as a guardian of "tolerance and understanding."

So, Diner says, "the way to correct for this by increasing tolerance and understanding." How eloquent and brilliant! And the way to repay debt is to have more money. Oh yes, the way to improve your grades is to have a smarter brain. We should make Diner the President of the United States immediately.

Peter (not verified) says:
Wed, 10/17/2012 - 16:23

I just want to thank you for taking the time to write this. It is refreshing to see someone articulate what is so inherently wrong with affirmative action. How anyone can support a policy that discriminates against students based on their race is beyond me.

Judy (not verified) says:
Thu, 09/13/2012 - 13:12

AA is the assumption of ethnic inferiority. My friend's son is a well educated (thanks to Catholic schools) minority
honors engineering graduate of Notre Dame. He chose ND because he was admitted in the engineering program. Other schools offered him (one a free ride) a place in the minority engineering program. No thank you!!!!

A.giuliani (not verified) says:
Thu, 09/13/2012 - 13:32

I agree wholeheartedly with the author of this article and those who support her thesis. "A non-liberal" is correct when they posit that misguided shame and a suprisingly toxic intolerance lies at the root of the now fashionable"diversity" meme, and that today's "enlightened" colleges are near totalitarian in their mandate of diversity in everything but academics, philosophy, behaviour and opinion.

Dividing people up into facile sub-groups based solely on their skin color and last names is far from enlightened -- it is racialist at best. And as Katrin says, sacrificing a person's unique qualities and sacred individuality on the altar of diversity does them no favors. Throughout the ages, tribalism has been the cause of most, if not all, of humankind's ills, and ironically those who screech loudest about the need for "diversity" seem to have little understanding that they are encouraging more of it, not less.

Russell Nelson (not verified) says:
Thu, 09/13/2012 - 17:05

Katrin, this is well-written. It is stories which change people's minds, not facts and logic.

A.giuliani (not verified) says:
Fri, 09/14/2012 - 14:52

Nice attempt at sarcasm, Russell.

If you wish to further the discussion of this issue in terms of "facts and logic", by all means, please feel free to step forward and do so. We would love to hear what you have to say.

AH (not verified) says:
Thu, 09/20/2012 - 20:11

Fact: America has been and continues to be a racist nation.

Fact: Americans of color have access to significantly fewer and more dilapidated avenues of freedom, education being the most salient.

Not a fact: That Affirmative Action affirms the ideology of racism.

Fact: That Affirmative Action recognizes the fact of racial inequality (as a result of the social construction of racism,) confirming the experience of it and real effects it has.

Not a fact: That you are where you are because you worked harder than someone in a ‘lower’ position.

Not a fact: That Rags to Riches, in its literal sense, is a sustainable system for equal mobility. As a systemic belief, it’s a fantasy which, like all fantasy, finds ground in reality (that one story you heard of it happing that time to your cousin’s best friend’s dad,) but a very tiny piece of reality.

Truth: As a result of Affirmative Action (which, yes, for the Trustees, may have been purely a political move, nonetheless,) Amherst College is a brighter, more inventive, more gifted, and more truthful institution than it ever could have been when choosing from a homogenous sliver of the human population with a common background of comfort.

Also true: Amherst has a lot of work to do in terms of taking to heart and actualizing the promise of Affirmative Action following the admissions process.

Anonymous (not verified) says:
Sat, 09/22/2012 - 13:02

How sad that you feel that way.

Listen, friend, as a rhetorical device you can aggressively place the words "Fact:" and "Truth:" in front of all the dubious sophistry you like. But that doesn't make your argument a valid one. Those supposedly definitive statements are merely your opinions dressed up as righteous post-modern scripture. You are free to believe whatever you wish, just remember: the value of an idea has nothing whatsoever to do with the sincerity (and in your case, aggressiveness) of the person who is expressing it.

Finally, I respectfully suggest that the countless tens of millions who have benefitted from the American Dream since this (racist!) nation's founding might beg to differ with your dismissal of their admirable life accomplishments as "a fantasy".

June Pan (not verified) says:
Thu, 09/13/2012 - 23:29

I think this is where your argument falls apart, Katrin. As your article stands, you are correct in your critique of AA and lip-service diversification. However, as Noah pointed out, the point of AA is to begin the leveling of a playing field that has been so skewed by historical processes.

When you throw together people from different backgrounds, tensions will occur, out of misunderstanding, unease, and the simple fact that This Is New. Humans aren't hard-wired to react well to New Things. But what generates tolerance, understanding, is continued exposure to each other -- and, consequently, conversation. This is where AA hits its limits. The adage goes: you can lead a horse to water, but you can't make it drink. You can bring people of different ethnic/economic/religious backgrounds together, but you can't make them interact or build a community. This takes initiative from each student. This also takes institutional support, to create those spaces where such dialogue and learning can take place. This is the next step, of the many steps, that make up progress.

AA is the first step of this ladder, and as the first step, it is woefully inadequate ON ITS OWN. AA, in and of itself, brings baggage: it comes in the form of misinformed assumptions, bruised egos, casual racism, intolerance, mistrust, and demands that we go back because this one step has not taken us where we want to go and therefore we should call this entire venture a failure. That's like saying, "Man, I walked out of my dorm but I'm still not at Hampshire Mall, let's turn back, this obviously didn't work." Well, no. You have to keep walking. You have to get on a bus. The answer isn't going back: the answer is to keep moving forward.

To that end, I thank Katrin for calling out the problematic aspects of AA, as well as the problematic aspects of our own behavior towards one another. This is a conversation we need to have -- this is the beginnings of a next step.

Anonymous (not verified) says:
Fri, 09/14/2012 - 15:32


Your heart is certainly in the right place, but your position on AA comes across as more than a bit fuzzy and unresolved.

For example, when you say: "... as Noah pointed out, the point of AA is to begin the leveling of a playing field that has been so skewed by historical processes", you fail to take into account the fact that since the dawn of time "historical processes" have been brought to bear on most, if not all races and ethnic groups. Not all have foundered, and not all have required asymmetrical privileges or assistance in order to succeed, and incredibly, some groups face unfair discrimination based on that success. Who can argue that academically proficient Asians face a huge systemic disadvantage when applying for college, regardless of their national or economic origins, or their immigration status? Lower middle class whites face a similar hurdle, since they have neither the money to pay for their education or the "diversity points" to gain the sympathy of an admissions offer intent on filling a simplistic diversity quota.

A fair person would consider either of those circumstance patently unjust, however it seems many here are willing to look the other way and declare those people collateral dameage -- unfortunate but necessary sacrifices on the skewed reparations altar.

So, when you agree that AA is flawed, but suggest that it is merely "the beginning of a next step", I'm not sure what you mean. Where do we go from here? When will the thumb finally be lifted from the scale? Who decides when the playing field has been truly "leveled"?

To close, you are correct when you say that you can bring people together but you can't make them form a community. But I would suggest that regardless of their noble goals and warm and fuzzy intentions, the current mandate of the diversity czars does not result in stable, harmoniously interwoven communities -- rather, it divides them into hostile, warring greivance groups based on the most pernicious and superfluous generalizations of skin color, ethnicity and even sexual persuasion.

Look around at all the hostile groups and subgroups on campus. Check out the way they communicate with each other and the administration. Do they look happy, or perpetually disgruntled? Is the god of diversity a unifying one, or a divisive one? Be honest, does all of this feel like societal progress to you?

Pimp D (not verified) says:
Fri, 09/14/2012 - 01:39

I'm pimpin' hard, yo......

Daniel Diner (not verified) says:
Fri, 09/14/2012 - 02:42

There's too much in this thread that I find problematic, so I'll just respond to my favorite posting.

Dear 'a non-liberal,'
1. Affirmative Action is not meant to be some sort of 'repayment' to minorities. That's rather demeaning. You can't 'repay' some group of people for enslaving or marginalizing them. It seems as the rest of your points follow from that premise, and because I find it pretty fundamentally incorrect, I won't respond to them. I think you stand to learn a lot about issues from a sociological perspective, and I will leave it to those who have stronger understandings of such views than me to correct you.
2. I sympathize with your situation. I really do. You're not the only Asian person I've spoken to who thinks he/she's being marginalized in the college admission process because of their race, and I would probably have felt the same way you do had I been in your position. But recognize that the process of getting admitted into American colleges is not a strictly meritocratic one. The sponsor of public schools (our government) has public interest to represent. One such interest is helping marginalized (read: unfairly discriminated against) groups succeed in higher education. The differences in their preparedness levels are not actually very significant, particularly in the most elite institutions. Also, recognize that as a private institution, Amherst is free to set its own admission goals. And it chooses to admit new students with the end goal of building a certain kind of community. It prizes diversity in this community, so it gives a higher preference to students who help it achieve that end. Realize that we could have average grades and test scores be far higher than they already are - Amherst just chooses to also give priority to other facets of its potential students.
3. You claim that Amherst doesn't respect diversity of opinion as much as it should. I'm very much with you. Andrew Kaake writes terribly unpopular pieces from a conservative perspective (very bravely, as I find it) but receives a lot of personal abuse in his online comment boards instead of critical reactions to his opinions. Such behavior isn't at all productive, and worse yet it hurts a classmate. We ought to try to consider every point made by one another, even (especially!) if we disagree with them. But why not then start with yourself? I can't see what the "inept tirade of anti-religious bigotry proudly spewed and defended last year" has to do with this article, or with my comment of it. Katrin was describing a friend who did, in fact, say a very bigoted thing. If you disagree with that, why don't you just say so, instead of attacking me personally. Argument by association is no argument at all.

I would love it if you more readily expressed your "disapproval for some assumptions of liberal thought." How can I develop my own arguments if no one around me questions them? But please do so while sticking to the arguments themselves, and refrain from attacking anyone (read: me) in the process. Also, you will have noticed how readily I attach my name in front of arguments that I know I will get attacked for. Most of the actual students present in this discussion have done the same. Anonymity does not foster fairer arguments; it just makes it easier for us to hurl abuse at one another. I urge that use your given name.

eddy wobegon (not verified) says:
Fri, 09/14/2012 - 13:40

Affirmative Action is a civil rights scam that allows institutions to pay racial extortion under the pretext of selecting for some undefined quality. It is meant as insurance against claims of racial animus when the only "crime" is judging by objective standards.

We are supposed to believe that there are inherent substantive differences between races that justify this discrimination. No screening is necessary to determine whether any given woman "thinks like a woman" or a black "thinks like a black" -- stereotyping is welcome here. No one actually offers up what those differences specificly are, simply the bland presumption that being superficially different makes one substantively different.

If, God forbid, there are any disparate outcomes that befalls any minority group, that is ipso facto proof of illicit racial discrimination, because everyone knows there are no inherent substantive differences between racial groups that could account for differing outcomes.

Tainting students with the impression that their demographics reveal fundmental characteristics is simply the price others must pay to earn institutions their racial equality merit badges.

a non liberal, ... (not verified) says:
Fri, 09/14/2012 - 15:54

1. This point wasn't addressed at you. It was primarily in response to William Ruhm’s defense of AA using the very “repayments” argument. I give you the exact quote:

“What Affirmative action policies come down to is an escape from whites' shame with regards to our oppressive racial past…Affirmative Action is then accepted by minorities who view as a necessary form of repayment, a compensation for centuries of racial injustice of white Americans. And it is fair; whites have prospered at the expense of minorities for centuries and it is completely "justified" for members of these groups to feel entitled to some form of repayment.”

As from his articles I have deduced that Ruhm holds fairly common liberal views, my arguments against AA being a form of repayment are not irrelevant. Unless if Ruhm is merely stating an argument which he does actually believe, then it is your fellow liberal comrade who needs “correction” and “reeducation” so that he believes the Real Truth. I am aware of other justifications for AA, but since you haven’t made them I won’t even start to argue about them. However, my rebuttals to such justifications are similar in basis to my further points.

2. “I sympathize with your situation. I really do.”

What does “sympathize” mean to you, Diner? You sound like an antebellum “benevolent” slave owner who “sympathizes” with oppressed slaves but tells them to accept their condition anyway, because they have to serve the “public interest.” Your professed sympathy falls flat when you basically say to me, and to all other Asians (and probably Jews) in a similar position, to “take one for the team.” Disgusting.

“One such interest is helping marginalized (read: unfairly discriminated against) groups succeed in higher education.”

Can you read your own words? The only unfair discrimination going in here is against overachieving minorities. For most of my life so far I’ve done the stuff which most other ambitious kids do: study hard, follow your parents’ advice, prepare for SATs, do a load of extracurriculars, etc. It really kinda sucks when you are applying for American colleges, and find that you have the wrong skin color, wrong hair color, wrong name, and the wrong kind of eyes: because it just happens that people of similar bodily features have worked harder and have better CVs than the overall average, and that American admission committees don’t want TOO many yellow, slanty-eyed people who are stereotypically quiet, studious, and reserved, my chances of getting admitted are way, way slimmer.

The fact is that a large number of East Asians (and increasingly South Asians as well) have in the past chosen education to be a huge priority in their lives (See “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother” for just a stereotypical example). This is part of the explanation of why on average, they are more academically successful than other ethnic groups, despite having experienced some discrimination in the past as well. The bad news is that other minorities haven’t, and the liberal establishment doesn’t want to rewards the hard work of these Asians – they just want enforced “equality”. It might not be the fault of these minorities themselves that they haven’t “made the right choices”, so to speak. But the fact is, with AA you punish those minorities and ethnic groups who do make the right choices and who do work hard.

Are Asians angry at this? The funny thing is, not so much. I think some view it as a badge of pride that they are held to a higher standard (I tried to convince myself of that, too). Some others just take it and accept it, realizing that they have to work EVEN harder. That’s why you don’t see Asian-Americans screaming at the government to stop AA so much.

“Also, recognize that as a private institution, Amherst is free to set its own admission goals. And it chooses to admit new students with the end goal of building a certain kind of community. It prizes diversity in this community, so it gives a higher preference to students who help it achieve that end.”

The “private institution” argument could be sound, but in this case it is almost completely irrelevant. Liberals would be shouting from the hilltops if some rich guy were open a college which openly discriminated against minorities and justifies it by saying that “we are a private institution”.

3. “I can't see what the "inept tirade of anti-religious bigotry proudly spewed and defended last year" has to do with this article, or with my comment of it.”

I’m sorry, Diner, but in my personal opinion your published article attacking Christianity in a polemical, pseudo-argumentative manner is every bit as bigoted as whatever Katrin’s friend said. In fact it may have been worse, because it was made in a public forum, written by someone who was a “section editor”, and hence gave the impression that the article was an official editorial which expressed the general attitude of the Amherst Student towards religion in general. Since the Amherst Student is the only student-run newspaper on the college, you can imagine the significance of that statement.

So this is not an “argument by association”. This is simply pointing out that in my opinion, you calling other people on their bigotry is as meaningful as Rush Limbaugh telling other people to be polite and civil when arguing. It’s simply pointing out the hypocrisy. I actually don’t disagree with your comment, although we have differences in that you tend to blame Katrin’s friend by portraying him as simply being a despicable evil bigot, while I tend to try to find the reason for why that person could have made such comments.

“Also, you will have noticed how readily I attach my name in front of arguments that I know I will get attacked for. Most of the actual students present in this discussion have done the same. Anonymity does not foster fairer arguments; it just makes it easier for us to hurl abuse at one another. I urge that use your given name.”

It’s pretty easy for a Section Editor of what is the de facto establishment student newspaper to take pride for “attaching my name in front of arguments that I know I will get attacked for”. Especially if those "arguments" are common liberal arguments which seem to be held by 80% or so of the student body. It’s not very easy, however, when you are a person who has views which differ from the majority (my full assumed alias, actually, is “non-liberal, non-conservative”), and has gone through bad experiences in the past when you did proudly argue in other forums with your full name or in person. You might as well ask a gay man in Bob Jones University to reveal his real name.

I have seen that many liberals in this college would simply gather and gang up to attack such a person with the familiar labels of “racist, sexist, misogynist, elitist, rape apologist,” etc. Especially if we’re talking about feminist issues, as seen in the Andrew Kaake article on abortion last year. It’s simply too much of a burden to bear. Being a science major, my future career depends on me constantly winning grants and academic prizes, and I am not convinced that airing my unpopular views with my real name will not affect my chances in this regard. Most of the faculty are openly liberal and view conservatives with disdain. Every time I experience personal discomfort whenever non-liberal views are openly mocked, misrepresented and ridiculed (be it during office hours, receptions, or dinners), I simply always try to avoid participating in the conversation, or if I have to, nod and laugh obediently at what must be laughed at. It is very hypocritical and personally revolting, but after all, I am here because Amherst chose to accept me (out of the dozens of others which did not), despite being a stereotypical Asian and all. So I will not “bite the hand that feeds me”, and I will not openly speak out against the Establishment. Because if I do, they have every power to kick me out, and if they do so, then I’m back to my 3rd-world country, a nobody with no future and a destroyed life. So in my real life I’ll unhesitatingly put on a liberal façade, just for the sake of surviving and getting on with life. Andrew Kaake is a brave man, and I’ll readily admit that I’m not as prepared to go as far as he does.

Read the comments. (not verified) says:
Fri, 09/14/2012 - 19:02

Wow. Two things.
First and most importantly, I was not defending Affirmative Action. I am against Affirmative Action and I think that is very clear in my comments. You have abstracted two sections of my comment and put them into a decontextualized quote that makes it appear as though I am in favor of affirmative action. I have no problem with you debating my views but it is absolutely disrespectful for you to blatantly misrepresent them in this way.

Second: "As from his articles I have deduced that Ruhm holds fairly common liberal views". I have written but one article in my time at Amherst. It was in the newspaper this week. It was a plea that liberals on this campus respect the views of their conservative peers. It baffles me that you could use this article (not articles, that was a lie on your part) as a basis to discredit my position on affirmative action (which again is in line with that of the typical conservative not the typical liberal). Use my views as a point of reference in your debate with Daniel if you like, but don't morph my views into something they are not just to help you prove a point. Integrity earns you respect on this campus and beyond it. You have just lost mine.

William Ruhm (not verified) says:
Fri, 09/14/2012 - 19:24

Forgot to put my name on that last comment William Ruhm

not a liberal, ... (not verified) says:
Sat, 09/15/2012 - 15:10

I sincerely apologize if I misrepresented your views on Affirmative Action. I am aware that ultimately you disagree with AA, and you did make that clear in your comment. However, your reasons for disagreeing were pragmatic rather than ideological, i.e. that AA does not achieve the goal it set out to achieve. I understood your comment to mean that you accept the "repayments" justification, but you disagree that AA is the best way to go about doing this. Hence in my original comment I was focusing on rebutting this "repayments" justification. My point, of course, is that the very mentality which undergirds AA is not a healthy or justified one.

Concerning whether your position is more in line with conservatives or liberals, I'd guess that it's about 50-50. Many conservatives are afraid of attacking the core ideology of AA itself (of which repayment may or may not be a part, depending on which liberal you're asking), as liberals are ready to play the race card and shut down the debate immediately. Hence most critics simply resort to attacking it pragmatically, the way you have done here.

" It baffles me that you could use this article (not articles, that was a lie on your part)..."
I apologize for my lack of awareness that you have not written other articles. I did read your article "Towards a More Inclusive Rhetoric on Campus" last week. Since you said that you disagreed on almost everything Kaake wrote about abortion, I concluded that you are not a conservative. Most conservatives would agree with at least half to two-thirds of what Kaake wrote, as being pro-life and seeking to overturn Roe vs. Wade seems to be almost a defining feature of contemporary American conservatism. But I don't think you are a clear-cut left-liberal either. I guessed that you simply leaned slightly left (the fact that you attacked AA pragmatically instead of ideologically pushed me even more towards that conclusion). Perhaps I am wrong. But I didn't mean to deliberately lie about the number of articles you wrote - I thought that there could be more, probably hidden in the archives somewhere.

William Ruhm (not verified) says:
Sat, 09/15/2012 - 19:30

First, thank you.
Second, I understand where you are coming from when you claim that my "repayments argument" creates a culture of dependency among minorities. However I think the kind of repayments I am advocating for (investing in inner-city schools...ect...not Affirmative Action) if done right would actually create an incentive for these minority students to raise themselves up by their bootstraps (as the conservative ideology would have it) and take responsibility for their own success. Let me explain. Rather than redistributing success, I want white Americans to redistribute opportunity to become successful. As of right now these opportunities are stacked against minority students. Say we raise the mean salary for inner-city k-12 teachers substantially...the all-star teachers who currently flock to high paying jobs in lily-white private schools would then have an incentive to take jobs helping the students who most need their help...but its not like these inner-city, minority students are receiving handouts...on the contrary now that we've provided them with teachers who actually care about them, we give them a sense of hope, we give them a chance to work for their own success (like you so clearly believe they should have to do)...we give them access to the opportunity structures whites have from kindergarten rather than in college admissions, when they have already fallen behind.

'14 (not verified) says:
Fri, 09/14/2012 - 16:18

I just want to comment on a few things here. Daniel Diner's last comment sums up everything I wanted to say regarding the idealogy of AA. But the comments I make, they pertain to your apparent thought process, Katrin. It's a little problematic, and it is clearly getting in the way of you making legitimate criticisms about affirmative action.
1.)" It creates an atmosphere in which highly-accomplished minority students question themselves, wondering whether they would have been accepted had race not been part of the admissions process."
Honestly, no. I'm not sure what type of students you're hanging around with, but as a "highly-accomplished minority student", I feel quite qualified to go here. So do my friends. I would appreciate it if you didn't accuse everyone of having low self-esteem just because some people do.

2.) "Prior to coming here, I wasn’t labeled as a minority — I was simply Katrin. The fact that I am a Cuban immigrant had not been the defining feature of my identity, but as soon as I stepped on campus, it altered the way faculty and students interacted with me."
A quick Amherst College profile search shows me that you're from Miami, Florida. And you're Cuban-American, you say? No *WONDER* you weren't labeled as a minority….because you weren't! Golly gee gosh, it's almost like you were the majority. As someone with family in Miami, I know very well that Miami is essentially a Spanish-speaking country at this point. I'm glad you felt so comfortable in a place where you were likely the majority, and you never really had to assess the idea of "otherness" or diversity until you came to Amherst.
And that phenomena, where everyone identified you as Cuban first, and Katrin second? That would be what those of us who don't live around people who "look like us" every day have to deal with. Welcome to the club!!

A little more creeping on the Amherst webpage, and I found this.
" My senior year, an admissions fellow gave a presentation at my school and I applied to Amherst through QuestBridge (I got in through regular decision, not the match). I was sure Amherst was the place for me after I visited during the Diversity Open House.
I consider myself extremely lucky to have been successful during the admissions process. Because my family is Cuban (myself included), no one knew how to help me through the process. I had little institutional support in my school, since we had just gotten new counselor that had never done CAP counseling (she specialized in ESE). The process can be extremely daunting, but I want to help others "

This would be your telementor profile, in case you forgot. I admit, this is a bit creepy of me, but I had to know where you were coming from when you wrote this.

Anyway, so, you acknowledge that QuestBridge was of help to you, and you admit that you were lucky, and that because your family was Cuban, your resources were limited. I'm starting to think you don't know what "affirmative action" means, because it certainly looks like you benefitted from it here. Why exactly are you trying to get rid of tools (related to AA) that helped you? Should the Cubans who come behind you in similar situation not get the opportunities you did?

3.) "In other words, by insisting on diversity for diversity’s sake, the College has created pockets of minority students within the larger white population rather than a community of collaborative learning."
Again, I'm not sure what school you attend. I *think* it's Amherst, but I can't really be sure. As I stated above, I am a minority student. This school is not without its diversity problems, and your map of Valentine was pretty accurate. But I will say that as a minority student, I have no trouble finding friends who don't look like me, and friends who do. My friend group is large, and diverse. My two best friends in the entire world---one looks like me, and the other doesn't. We all sit in Val together.

The problem you are encountering here, is that you seem afraid to step outside of your own comfort zone. This is not to say that the white jocks in the backroom aren't too, because just between me and you (and the rest of Amherst reading this), they all need to attend some diversity panels because I think the concept was lost on them.

4.) in fact, research has repeatedly proven the failure of affirmative action programs by showing that acceptances into institutions of higher learning do not ensure success for minority students since many drop out as a result of academic and social stresses.
Because minority students never drop out due to family problems, and white students never drop out because it was just too hard. I think you need to bring out this factual evidence, instead of this "I see it, therefore it must be true" evidence, because frankly, I don't believe you.

This whole piece seems less about actually criticizing affirmative action, and more about your personal grievances with Amherst College and the issues you deem it to have. Sorry you haven't had a good experience. That has nothing to do with affirmative action, though.

Thais Correia (not verified) says:
Fri, 09/14/2012 - 17:48

Thanks for writing this article. This is something that I've been thinking about myself and it definitely is something that merits further discussion. My mind is not yet made up on the issue, but I do have some criticism and some comments.
First, anecdotal evidence is generally thought of as non-representative of the population it attempts to describe. It weakens ones arguments for the reason that anyone can come up with more anecdotal evidence that disprove's your claim. For example, someone in the comment mentioned that a group of African Americans always held up the class asking "basic" questions. I can say that, in my experience, whites are more disruptive in class than any other race. Neither claim has any credibility.
Second, I have looked for data on dropout rates based on race and have not found anything credible. Granted, I haven't looked harder than a few google searches.
However, I did run some tests on data found here ( Specifically, I used that year's enrollment number, percent white, percent black, and percent hispanic from the enrollment tab. I also used the six-year graduation rates by race/ethnicity found under the graduation tab.
Now, it's been a while since I've been in a statistics class so I invite anyone to correct me if I am mistaken! I called whites population 1, blacks population 2, and hispanics population 3. I found the population sizes by multiplying the race proportion by the total enrollment. Our null hypothesis can be that the graduation rate of whites is equal to that of blacks and hispanics. The alternative hypothesis can be that the graduation rates are different.
Now, the part where my test is flawed is that I obviously do not have a random sample. The inferences I am about to make can only be applied to the Amherst College population, if that. I'm not claiming to be an expert statistician!
I ran two significance tests for difference in proportions using a confidence level of 95%. You can do that pretty easily here
In the first test, I inputted proportions for white graduation rates and for black graduation rates. In the second test, I inputted proportions for white graduation rates and for hispanic graduation rates. In both tests, I reached the conclusion that the differences in proportions are NOT statistically significant.
I believe this says that, at least in our college, being of a certain race does not mean you are more likely to drop out. Therefore, this seems to be an unfair argument to use against AA.

Paul Tyler (not verified) says:
Mon, 09/17/2012 - 21:57

Thais, I appreciate your attempt to look into some of the data but I do think your statistical test is not valid. Statistical inference tests infer information about populations when only a sample of the population is known. That is, if we only knew the graduation rate of a small SAMPLE of each race/ethnicity (and it was a random sample, but that's not my point here), then inference would tell us whether the differences in percent graduation between the races can be explained by chance (i.e. if you take a sample, you could happen to poll a bunch of really good students in one race and happen to poll a bunch of really bad students in another just by chance) or if they cannot be explained by chance (i.e. are statistically significant).

The link you cite ( gives the percentages of ALL students and their graduation rates from a particular year, not just a sample of each race. Therefore, we don't use inference, we just outright compare the percentages.

For whatever year this site lists data (I don't see a year), the six-year graduation rates were as follows:

White Non-Hispanic: 96%
Black Non-Hispanic: 93%
Hispanic: 93%
Asian / Pacific Islander: 100%
American Indian / Alaska Native: 100%
Race / Ethnicity Unknown: 98%
Non-Resident Alien: 86%

This means that Non-Resident Aliens had the worst graduation rate (in comparison to the other categories provided), and so on up for that particular year. No statistical test is needed because all students are accounted for, not a subset or sample of students.

There were differences in graduation rates among the race/ethnicity categories used, and that is a fact. However, this does not mean that affirmative action caused these differences. Even without affirmative action, different races might have different graduation rates due to other variables.

A. Giuliani (not verified) says:
Sat, 09/22/2012 - 13:16

You are correct to note that racial/ethnic subgroup grad rates are not necessarily tied to affirmative action admissions. But you do not allow for the fact that AA policies do not stop at the front door of any college -- they are pervasive throughout all aspects of the academic experience. Rightly or wrongly, it is simply not in a schools best interest to admit an AA student, invest considerable resources in that student, and then allow that student to fail. Accordingly, "allowances" will be made along the way to ensure graduation. This does mean that every AA admit gets pushed through regardless if their performance, but it does mean that with the schools reputation hanging in the balance there is a tendency to look the other way when it does occur.

So a straight comparison of admission rates to graduation rates tells us little about the efficacy of AA policies.

Thais Correia (not verified) says:
Fri, 09/14/2012 - 18:05

I'd be interested in knowing what everyone (especially those who are against AA based on race) think about AA based on socio-economic status.

Karielle (not verified) says:
Sat, 09/15/2012 - 01:00

I can see why affirmative action can be useful in college admissions at top-tier schools like Amherst, since the admissions process can be very relative. For instance, if could be three applicants, one white, one black, one Asian, and they all have similar test scores and grades, except the black student has slightly lower scores (maybe a 50 pt difference, composite) than the white student, who has slightly lower scores than the Asian student. So maybe the white student went to high school in a more affluent area and had many resources and opportunities to take AP classes, go to SAT prep, etc. And the black student did not necessarily have those resources, but managed to succeed out of their own initiative, intelligence, etc. And maybe the Asian student didn't have as many extra-curriculars since they really focused on grades and test scores in high school.

Since the college is probably looking for someone with the most academic /potential/ to add to their community (and not necessarily the highest test scores in high school), they might see the black student as having more of that potential than the white or Asian student. I think the main point is that all three of them were qualified. It's not like they are letting in people who don't stand a chance of success just because they are minorities. It's not that they don't deserve it just because their test scores weren't quite so stellar. They're still strong candidates for success in college, and they worked just as hard as anyone else. It's kind of like seeing two people audition for a choir and one has a sore throat and the other does not. If the sick one sounds almost as good as the not sick one, they would probably get into the choir since the thought is something like, "Wow, I wonder how much more incredible they would sound after we gave them some medicine."

Sara Ruddock-Harris (not verified) says:
Sat, 09/15/2012 - 11:47

Reading this article and reading the subsequent comment thread has made me more proud of my alma mater than ever before. In the face of great opposition, the college is still doing what they know is right. I find it interesting that on a topic about college admission policies no one, not even the article author, took the time to ask the admissions office what they actually do to address the issue of diversity on campus. As previously noted, one of the great things the college admissions office does is offer a diversity open house weekend. Having offered a helping hand in planning a few of these as a diversity intern during my stint at the college, I know that the college recruits from nooks and crannies all over this country some of the most accomplished students of varying colors and socioeconomic backgrounds to come visit our fair college for that weekend. Our college’s policy on diversity recruitment is not about "the white community uplift[ing] our black brethren." Our college is about looking at the entire package. That while test scores are important, we know that people bring more to the table than test scores. The friends I made at Amherst are some of the brightest people I know and I am sure that some of them were able to show that on the SAT and some of them weren't. I'm glad that my college could see past a number on a page and has the resources to survey the full attributes of each applicant.
Largely, the arguments against affirmative action that I have seen here and else where are based on misconceptions of the process. While other schools might, Amherst doesn’t take less qualified students of color. In a highly DuBoisian fashion, the admission officers scour the country to find the talented tenth of students from various backgrounds to offer them one of the best liberal arts educations money can by. People’s automatic assumption that students of color don’t deserve to be at Amherst speaks more to people’s own prejudice not a flaw in the system. No one every turns to their neighbor in class after an foolish comment and ask “do you think he’s a legacy because he’s an idiot?” However, too often people’s first assumption about a student of color is that he unfairly took a spot from someone more deserving.

not a liberal, ... (not verified) says:
Sat, 09/15/2012 - 15:19

I would only like to respond to your last part about legacies. Contrary to what you might think, there have actually been more occasions in this college where I am tempted to suspect that a student (usually white) is a "legacy" instead of a "genuine admit", based on the kinds of questions he/she asks. My stance on AA is not based on blind racial prejudice - however it is indeed affected by prejudices arising from observing someone's performance in class. I am equally opposed to legacy admits as with AA.

I think it's fine to recruit other people based on diversity of talents - such as being a writer, musician, activist, scientist, etc. I even think it is OK to recruit people based on their socioeconomic class. But I think it ridiculous to recruit based on race. Based on the race justification, the privileged daughters of Barack Obama would be given a slight advantage compared to a poor, working-class white when applying to college. And that's often what happens - instead of helping the poorest minorities, race-based AA often ends up "helping" the more affluent minorities instead.

"Because hey, he's from a rich family, and that's probably he went to a private school, but he's black right? Oh, we totally can rely on him to "speak for the black community!""

A. Giuliani (not verified) says:
Sat, 09/15/2012 - 15:57


AA based on race or ethnicity alone is an unfair and divisive societal force.

Karielle (not verified) says:
Sat, 09/15/2012 - 21:26

Why would you support recruiting based on socioeconomic status and not race? In your opinion, how are those things different?
Also, Barack Obama's daughters (or any minority children of such status) wouldn't be admitted over an impoverished applicant because of race. That's just not how it works. If anything, they'd be admitted because they were the president's children.