Why affirmative action should be seen as talent scouting

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OPINION: Affirmative Action and race-conscious recruiting remain essential if we are to have true equity, not giving everyone the same shot, but giving everyone what they need to have a fair shot.

This Halloween, the Supreme Court of the United States will hear arguments in two cases challenging affirmative action in admissions policies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Harvard University. Originally planned as a single case, over the summer the court announced it would separate the two so as to allow new Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson to vote on the North Carolina case.

Too often affirmative action has been demeaned as a “lowering of standards” or setting quotas for “undeserving minorities.” But I would argue it is more accurate to see affirmative action as talent scouting. In a letter to the New York Times the year before his death in 2016, Bowen wrote, “Minority students admitted as undergraduates to selective institutions consistently graduate at higher rates than do peers with similar qualifications who attend less-demanding institutions. And available evidence indicates that the great majority of beneficiaries of affirmative action go on to enjoy successful careers and live lives enriched by civic contributions.

My mother, who years earlier had been widowed a few days after finding out she was pregnant with her sixth child, didn’t want to hear any talk of transferring. She was too busy getting the kids coming behind me ready for college. During my sophomore year, with the advice of two of my Maryland professors and help from an assistant provost, I applied and was accepted as a transfer student to three Ivy League universities.

For years since that debacle, the UCs have tried to find alternative means to address disturbing declines in Black and Latino enrollment. How’s this for a sobering statistic: Although Latinos make up 52% of public school students, they represent only 25% of the students in the UC system.


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