After reading last week’s article, “Affirmative Action: An Obstacle to Meritocracy,” I would like to say that diversity is not overrated.
I refuse to “dangerously oversimplify” this statement because to do so would not honor and respect the complexities of diversity. When I talk about diversity, I am talking about more than “racial variation.” Yes, racial variation is a component of diversity, however, diversity also includes sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, socioeconomic class and geographic origin. To restrict diversity to racial variation is naïve, ignorant and denies the importance of the other pieces of diversity.
I am certain that many of us at the academy, particularly the Senior class, would agree that every college and university should strive to have the “most academically talented” and “intellectually passionate applicants[s].” However, I do not believe that pursuing diversity detracts from an institutions ability to attract and admit strong students. Diversity initiatives are designed to admit under-represented applicants who are also talented. Diversity does not equal using minority applicants as fodder for an institution’s statistics.
Here at PA, I do not believe that we are on an equal playing field. When we matriculate, we bring our history with us. Some of us come from wealth, others do not. Some of us went to competent schools, while others languished in sub-par schools. Attending PA does not erase our histories. We bring our past experiences in education with us.
Race does not equal merit. The color of someone’s skin does not automatically indicate that he or she should gain admission into a prestigious school. However, our country’s history clearly demonstrates the contrary. Yes, applicants should not be rewarded for the color of their skin. I cannot deny that. However, just because a minority applicant was admitted does not mean that he or she has stolen, or taken the place of, a more qualified white applicant. Diversity is not about making up for past mistakes or punishing the descendants of slave masters. It is about ensuring that all children in our country no matter what color, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, religion or any other attribute we can think of, has a chance to receive a decent education.
Students are not judged primarily by their academic record. We live in a country where one test does not determine our academic futures. We write essays, fill out financial aid forms, and sit through interviews in order to demonstrate our talent and commitment to furthering our educations. I recently spoke to Vivian Mallick, an Andover Admissions Officer, who said that when reading an application, she looks for more than just high test scores and stellar grades. She looks for “a hard worker, someone who is independent and more mature than other kids their age.” It is possible for schools to create a student body that is intellectually diverse and still be racially diverse.
As for out-of-classroom socialization, students bring more than their skin pigmentation to the table. To reduce the presence of students to mere skin pigmentation is insulting and close-minded. Along with their different hues, students bring their cultures, languages and values. Here at Andover, I have had the same roommate for four years, and through our time together she has learned about Ghanaian culture, what it is like to live in the South Bronx and that I do not need to wash my hair everyday. From her I have learned about agriculture, what it feels like to be the only white girl on a black basketball team and how awesome avocados are.
Spring term at the academy means sunshine and less clothing. With the warmer days comes college decisions and thoughts of the future. I am not surprised that, once again, there is another article about affirmative action and diversity in this newspaper. However, it seems that our students are quick to say that race played a role in admissions decisions. What about children of alumni? Don’t they have an advantage over other applicants because their parents went to a prestigious institution? Are they not being rewarded for something they have no control over and certainly did not earn?
We should admit bright and capable students but we should not cross our fingers and hope that diversity will miraculously occur. Socioeconomic factors do trap many black and Latino children in poor schools. Classism has definitely played a role in how students in America are taught. However, in order to fight the classism, we must acknowledge that racism, sexism and every other “ism” are connected. We cannot deal with these “isms” in separate vacuums. This means that we must actively continue to pursue diversity because sitting idly by means bright students without the resources and access to higher education will get lost in the shuffle.
A colorblind admission system is not the answer. It is impossible because we do not live in a colorless society. Should we look at zip codes instead? I am certain that if you compare my zip code 10453 in the South Bronx to Andover’s zip code, it will quickly become apparent that most of the residents of this area of the Bronx are black or Latino, not white. Should we get rid of names so we do not give clues to our cultures and ancestors?
Schools look at our academic records, interview reports and recommendations in order to decide whether or not we will fit in their communities. Our qualifications are more than just a numbers game. We are not choosing between “racially diverse and intellectually similar” student bodies versus “intellectually diverse and racially similar” student bodies. It is not that black and white. Schools should be striving for intellectual diversity as well as other kinds of diversity. That is certainly possible.
Okyeraa Ohene-Asah is a four-year Senior from Bronx, New York.