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Why Affirmative Action Isn’t to Blame for Your College Rejection Letter
It’s the most popular—and least reality-based—sentiment of the disgruntled white college applicant with high scores: a black kid took my seat.
It’s college admissions season, and with this year’s record-low admissions rates there are a lot of heartbroken high school seniors around the country who have been shut out of their top-choice campuses.
The angst sometimes veers into indignation, and one Suzy Lee Weiss of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, has taken her outrage to the op-ed page of The Wall Street Journal and the insipid airwaves of the Today Show. Suzy’s grievance letter to the schools that rejected her is nominally a satire, but let’s just say she’s no Jonathan Swift. Here is how she opens her piece:
Like me, millions of high-school seniors with sour grapes are asking themselves this week how they failed to get into the colleges of their dreams. It's simple: For years, they—we—were lied to.
Colleges tell you, "Just be yourself." That is great advice, as long as yourself has nine extracurriculars, six leadership positions, three varsity sports, killer SAT scores and two moms. Then by all means, be yourself!
Weiss then muses about what she might have done to improve her chances of admission at Yale or the University of Pennsylvania: “worn a headdress to school,” come out of “any closet” or gone to Africa to “scoop up some suffering child” and parlayed the experience into a craven application essay. Saving what is undoubtedly her real beef for last, Weiss writes, she could have “been any of the diversities: Navajo, Pacific Islander, anything.” By "anything," of course, she means "black."
Leaving aside the glib, privileged flavor of this hokum—which YingYing Shang diagnoses well at the Huffington Post—Weiss’s suggestion that her 2120 on the SAT would have ushered her into Yale this fall if only admissions officers had evaluated the applications on their merits is, to put it very gently, naive. It’s the most popular—and least reality-based—sentiment of the disgruntled white college applicant with high scores: a black kid took my seat.
In a 2003 article in Science magazine, professor of education Thomas Kane came up with a good analogy to explain why Weiss and other aggrieved students are mistaken:
Suppose that there were one parking space reserved for disabled drivers in front of a popular restaurant. Eliminating the reserved space would have only a minuscule effect on the parking options for nondisabled drivers. But the sight of the open space may frustrate many passing nondisabled motorists looking for someplace to park.
Circling the parking lot, frustrated drivers tend to think, “if only that space weren’t reserved for a handicapped person, I’d be shopping right now,” but that’s a fundamental error of logic. Any number of other drivers could have taken the unreserved spot—and would have. College admissions decisions trigger a similar bias: a white college senior with strong scores and grades who gets a rejection letter tends to think, “if only Harvard didn’t give preferences to minority races, I’d be heading to Cambridge in a few months.” But there are thousands of students with similar or superior files who would be competing for those seats, making it very unlikely that ending affirmative action would open up a spot for any particular student. Kane’s analysis shows just how little an elite college’s consideration of race in admissions improves the chances of majority-race students:
It is difficult to identify which individuals are paying the cost of race-conscious admissions. In the Spring of 2003, Harvard College accepted only one applicant in 10. Many of the rejected applicants (and, potentially, many more of those who did not bother applying) have better grades and SAT scores than many of the minority applicants who are admitted. A large fraction of these may well believe that they would have been accepted if Harvard had no racial preferences. Yet only about 18% of Harvard's undergraduates are black or Hispanic. Even in the unlikely scenario that ending racial preferences forced all these students to surrender their seats to white and Asian-American students, acceptance rates for the remaining students would only increase from 10 to 12%. If more than 2% of those who were originally denied admission believe that they were the "next in line" and that they would have been admitted in the absence of racial preferences, then the perceived costs will overstate the true costs.
A decade later, this effect is even more pronounced. Using Harvard's 2012 admissions statistics, with black and Hispanic students comprising 21 percent of Harvard’s student body and the acceptance rate at a hair over 6 percent, I calculate that eliminating race-conscious admissions would have improved a white applicant's chances by—at most—1.2 percent. And this calculation is based on the assumption that none of the 436 black and Hispanic students admitted to Harvard last year would have earned a seat under a race-neutral admissions policy. That suggestion is ludicrous. So the actual impact of ending affirmative action on white candidates’ chances of admission to Harvard would be virtually nil, and well under a one-percent boost.
Weiss mocked the goal of campus diversity in her churlish op-ed days before averring that “diversity is wonderful” in her Today show interview. She clearly is no deep analyst of the role of race in higher education. But the biggest problem in her argument, and the most popular misconception she voices, is the untenable claim that she would be Ivy-bound in September if it weren’t for affirmative action. This conclusion is based on neither lux nor veritas.
Image credit: Shutterstock.com
What is human dignity? Here's a primer, told through 200 years of great essays, lectures, and novels.
- Human dignity means that each of our lives have an unimpeachable value simply because we are human, and therefore we are deserving of a baseline level of respect.
- That baseline requires more than the absence of violence, discrimination, and authoritarianism. It means giving individuals the freedom to pursue their own happiness and purpose.
- We look at incredible writings from the last 200 years that illustrate the push for human dignity in regards to slavery, equality, communism, free speech and education.
The inherent worth of all human beings<p>Human dignity is the inherent worth of each individual human being. Recognizing human dignity means respecting human beings' special value—value that sets us apart from other animals; value that is intrinsic and cannot be lost.</p> <p>Liberalism—the broad political philosophy that organizes society around liberty, justice, and equality—is rooted in the idea of human dignity. Liberalism assumes each of our lives, plans, and preferences have some unimpeachable value, not because of any objective evaluation or contribution to a greater good, but simply because they belong to a human being. We are human, and therefore deserving of a baseline level of respect. </p> <p>Because so many of us take human dignity for granted—just a fact of our humanness—it's usually only when someone's dignity is ignored or violated that we feel compelled to talk about it. </p> <p>But human dignity means more than the absence of violence, discrimination, and authoritarianism. It means giving individuals the freedom to pursue their own happiness and purpose—a freedom that can be hampered by restrictive social institutions or the tyranny of the majority. The liberal ideal of the good society is not just peaceful but also pluralistic: It is a society in which we respect others' right to think and live differently than we do.</p>
From the 19th century to today<p>With <a href="https://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?year_start=1800&year_end=2019&content=human+dignity&corpus=26&smoothing=3&direct_url=t1%3B%2Chuman%20dignity%3B%2Cc0" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Google Books Ngram Viewer</a>, we can chart mentions of human dignity from 1800-2019.</p><img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDg0ODU0My9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1MTUwMzE4MX0.bu0D_0uQuyNLyJjfRESNhu7twkJ5nxu8pQtfa1w3hZs/img.png?width=980" id="7ef38" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="9974c7bef3812fcb36858f325889e3c6" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
American novelist, writer, playwright, poet, essayist and civil rights activist James Baldwin at his home in Saint-Paul-de-Vence, southern France, on November 6, 1979.
Credit: Ralph Gatti/AFP via Getty Images
The future of dignity<p>Around the world, people are still working toward the full and equal recognition of human dignity. Every year, new speeches and writings help us understand what dignity is—not only what it looks like when dignity is violated but also what it looks like when dignity is honored. In his posthumous essay, Congressman Lewis wrote, "When historians pick up their pens to write the story of the 21st century, let them say that it was your generation who laid down the heavy burdens of hate at last and that peace finally triumphed over violence, aggression and war."</p> <p>The more we talk about human dignity, the better we understand it. And the sooner we can make progress toward a shared vision of peace, freedom, and mutual respect for all. </p>
Scientists find that bursts of gamma rays may exceed the speed of light and cause time-reversibility.
- Astrophysicists propose that gamma-ray bursts may exceed the speed of light.
- The superluminal jets may also be responsible for time-reversibility.
- The finding doesn't go against Einstein's theory because this effect happens in the jet medium not a vacuum.
Jet bursting out of a blazar. Black-hole-powered galaxies called blazars are the most common sources detected by NASA's Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope.
Cosmic death beams: Understanding gamma ray bursts<div class="rm-shortcode" data-media_id="cu2knVEk" data-player_id="FvQKszTI" data-rm-shortcode-id="c6cfd20fdf31c82cb206ade8ce21ba3f"> <div id="botr_cu2knVEk_FvQKszTI_div" class="jwplayer-media" data-jwplayer-video-src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/cu2knVEk-FvQKszTI.js"> <img src="https://cdn.jwplayer.com/thumbs/cu2knVEk-1920.jpg" class="jwplayer-media-preview" /> </div> <script src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/cu2knVEk-FvQKszTI.js"></script> </div>
Researchers dramatically improve the accuracy of a number that connects fundamental forces.
- A team of physicists carried out experiments to determine the precise value of the fine-structure constant.
- This pure number describes the strength of the electromagnetic forces between elementary particles.
- The scientists improved the accuracy of this measurement by 2.5 times.
The process for measuring the fine-structure constant involved a beam of light from a laser that caused an atom to recoil. The red and blue colors indicate the light wave's peaks and troughs, respectively.
Scientists at Washington University are patenting a new electrolyzer designed for frigid Martian water.
- Mars explorers will need more oxygen and hydrogen than they can carry to the Red Planet.
- Martian water may be able to provide these elements, but it is extremely salty water.
- The new method can pull oxygen and hydrogen for breathing and fuel from Martian brine.