We’re here because we earned it.
Editor’s note: CHN Intern Emily Rodriguez is a senior majoring in sociology at Brigham Young University.
In my high school Government class, we often played a game. My teacher would ask a controversial question, and the class would spread out to the corners of the room. Each corner represented either, “agree, somewhat agree, somewhat disagree, or disagree.” One day, the question was, “Should race be considered as a factor for college admission?” Most of my white peers who grew up in suburban Utah moved to the ‘disagree’ side.
I followed them.
They were then asked to defend their answers. I heard, “it wouldn’t be fair,” and “it would take away the spot of someone who truly deserves it.” But the argument that stuck with me the most was, “It would make people of color feel like they wouldn’t be able to make it without the extra help.”
As someone who has always been on a mission to prove myself, this argument struck home. They were right. I didn’t want to be known as the girl who got into college only because she was brown. Sadly, I heard it all the time. Countless times people said or implied that they were surprised I was accepted into college when they hadn’t gotten in. They always chose to ignore my qualifications such as my AP classes, good grades, extracurriculars, and internships. “It’s because your brown” was always their reasoning.
Even as a college student, when I was awarded a scholarship over my white peers, I couldn’t help but think, “did I truly earn it, or do they just want to increase their diversity ratings?”
For a long time, I was against affirmative action or race-conscious policies. I worked hard to get where I am. Really hard. And I didn’t get a “free pass” because of the color of my skin. It took me a while to realize that those “concerned” that affirmative action would impact the self-confidence of people of color weren’t fighting on behalf of people of color. Rather they were fighting to minimize and discredit our efforts.
The need for affirmative action, for diversity on our college campuses, became even clearer late last month as I stood with more than 100 students rallying in front of the Supreme Court. Organizations such as the African American Policy Forum, Asian Americans Advancing Justice, the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, the National Women’s Law Center, the National Urban League, and many others sponsored the event.
Despite the rain, the crowd was energized as student after student shared their experiences combatting systemic barriers, feeling tokenized, and wondering how striking down opportunities for diversity would influence their already predominantly white campuses.
“The key to my success was that I had the opportunity to learn and excel at a top university, and affirmative action played a role in that opportunity,” wrote Agustín Fuentes, Anthropology Professor at Princeton University, for The Daily Princetonian.
Professor Fuentes is one example of the impact race-conscious admissions policies can have. He attended a high school that was 90 percent Latino. Professor Fuentes described his school as underfunded and unable to provide him with a competitive education. If Professor Fuentes’ college had chosen to ignore his racial identity and the systemic barriers he overcame, it would be erasing the life experiences that made him a qualified candidate.
Today more than one in 10 students attend K-12 public schools where 90 percent or more of the student body are of one race or ethnicity. This statistic is troubling as we consider that schools where the majority of students are people of color are chronically underfunded. One study found that schools where 90 percent of the population are students of color spent an average of $733 less per student than schools with 90 percent or more white students. This additional spending would be sufficient to pay the salary for 12 additional first-year teachers, or nine experienced teachers.
In addition, these schools provide less access to AP classes, college prep courses, extracurriculars, and guidance counselors. How can the scale be equal when the odds are stacked against us? How?
The reality is that race-conscious admissions policies help schools see the full picture. When those policies are reversed we see that the whole student body suffers. A University of Washington study found that when selective colleges banned affirmative action, they admitted 23 percent fewer students of color. The University of California Berkeley, where affirmative action is banned, only admitted 258 Black students and 27 Native American students for their 2021 class of 6,931.
The United States is becoming more and more diverse and our campuses need to reflect it. We cannot achieve this goal by asking people of color to hide and minimize their reality. Race as one of many factors in college admission is not a tool to create a false sense of diversity. Rather, it allows all aspects of a student’s challenges, limitations, and experiences to be fully appreciated. Choosing to remove race-conscious policies isn’t just removing a box from an application – it’s erasing our identity.