Sliding scale bake sale

26 Sep

Campus Republicans at Cal have decided to make a statement about legislation that would let the UCs consider race and national origin during the admission process (http://www.cnn.com/2011/09/25/us/california-racial-bake-sale/index.html). The Republican organization has been inspired to put on a bake sale, charging as follows: $2.00 for white men, $1.50 for Asian men, $1.00 for Latino men, $0.75 for black men and $0.25 for Native American men. Women will get $0.25 off the male-pegged prices for their demographic group. (More on this in my next post.)

If you find yourself stuttering with disbelief at this innovative yet all too familiar stunt, this post is for you. It’s time we confront the misdirected fears that deny white privilege and promote xenophobia and maintenance of an inequitable status quo. And we can’t always wait for Tim Wise to speak up and set the record straight. Which he did—what ensued at Cal is textbook cultural race debate protocol: campus—and national—outrage (including a crisp response from Tim), followed by purported shock (including an implied claim to victimhood) by the young Republicans, who will proceed with their bake sale with renewed commitment. The FaceBook volleys to continue.

If you thank some higher power for the Tim Wises of the world who speak up when minority identified and identifying people get scapegoated for historic and systemic social inequities, I ask you to do more. While we can learn from Tim’s example, we can’t rest on it. We need to be able to name what’s wrong with the bake sale ourselves, and to be able to talk empathetically and persuasively about it with those who disagree with us. We need to breathe through our own indignation and help reframe the conversation in a way that dignifies each individual’s struggle to live in a diverse world.

To that end, I encourage you to take the time to practice what you might say to someone about the Campus Republicans’ bake sale (which is just today’s example of a debate that will pop up in another form tomorrow). Do it out loud with a friend. Practice what you could say, so you can hear what you really have to say.

Here are some things you might say or consider:

  1. Let’s not confuse diversity and merit. The legislation is not suggesting that race and national origin should replace academic performance as the core admissions criterion. It’s unfair (both to the UCs and their students), unfounded and simply inaccurate to assume that non-white and international students get in “because of diversity,” while white US students are all there “because they earned it.” And that’s the underlying assumption in this protest. The corollary belief that white US-born students are being discriminated against becomes a murky charge, when you consider the longer standing traditions of affirmative action that historically and currently favor those particular students. (See #3 & 4 below.)
  2. Face it: we’ve always considered race and national origin in admissions. Whether we talk about it or not, people “read” race and ethnicity into applicants’ names, home addresses and activities. It can’t hurt to name this and be transparent about how race and national origin factor into the decision-making process.
  3. Identity in admissions is sticky. What do you think about eliminating all identity consideration in the application process—including whether someone is a legacy, or able to pay full tuition?
  4. There’s always been favoritism for applicants who have an “in” (a relative who is an alumnus/a, a family friend who knows someone, professional help in putting together the application or writing the essays…) How do you think the UCs should handle the informal affirmative action that prefers people with an inside connection? Maybe the legislation should include and address all forms of consideration given to applicants.
  5. Studies show fewer men are getting accepted into and successfully graduating from college. Should we stop considering applicants’ sex in admissions, even if it means ending up with few or no men in the incoming class?
  6. Why do you think diversity matters at a school? Is it just a numbers game that only benefits minority identified and identifying groups? Actually, studies suggest that social diversity helps to unleash thought diversity within groups, enriching critical and creative output (see resources below). Claude Steele’s research also indicates that being “the only one” is cognitively, emotionally and physiologically stressful for minority identified and identifying students, who end up carrying the burden of having to prove that they—and their groups—deserve to be there. (True, sometimes they overperform to compensate, but stress is still stress, even if the results appear to be “good.”) The UCs already recruit and retain a qualified cohort that ensures no white US student is “the only one” on their campuses. Don’t minority-identified and identifying students deserve the same freedom of mind?  
  7. Flipping the script, the Campus Republicans’ pricing structure serves up a certain justice when you consider the inequitable distribution of wealth in the US. The prices read as a menu of privilege, especially when you factor in red-lining and other discriminatory practices that have contributed, in no small degree, to a race-wealth inequity in this country. (Thanks to my colleague SK for this last thought, and for sharing the article.)

I hope this was some help in identifying what you want or have to say on this issue. It certainly helped me to write it out. Thanks.

Resources:

* Antonio, Anthony Lising, et al. “Effects of Racial Diversity on Complex Thinking in College Students.” Psychological Science < http://cseweb.ucsd.edu/~ddahlstr/misc/ingenta1.pdf&gt;

* Gurin, Patricia. “New Research on The Benefits of Diversity in College and Beyond: An Empirical Analysis.” Diversity Digest <http://www.diversityweb.org/digest/sp99/benefits.html&gt;

* Steele, Claude. Whistling Vivaldi: And Other Clues to How Stereotypes Affect Us

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