At the conclusion of Monday’s All-School Meeting, Spike Lee made the contentious statement that race is a merit. Mr. Lee was responding to a question concerning affirmative action and the college admissions process. I agree that, in this context, race is indeed a merit. Race is something that humans are born with and do not have to strive to achieve, yet race is something that makes humans different. Each race comes with its own advantages, obstacles, history and culture.
The national diversity of the United States is a merit of our country as a whole. It is in the best interests of colleges and universities nationwide to value the diversity of its community as a merit as well. By the same token the race of each individual in the community adds merit to that community, thus the race of the individual is a merit.
In order to provide the most complete and effective academic experience as possible, it is essential that the institution in question take into account diversity, racial or otherwise. No matter how you want to define race, it is undeniable that every human race brings something unique and special to the academic equation.
Learning from one’s peers is as important a part of a fulfilling education as learning from one’s teachers, and the more world views represented the more complete the education.
A diverse community is an integral part of any effective academic environment, and I am certainly not alone in this belief. If you looked at the student body of Phillips Academy 50 years ago compared to today you would notice more than just the presence of girls. Over the last few decades the school has become significantly more racially diverse.
I will undoubtedly have peers who are hurt by affirmative action, at least in regards to college admission. However, I would argue that a policy that promotes a diverse academic community is ultimately in the best interests of all parties involved.
The situation is not so simple that a white college applicant can blame affirmative action for allowing an African American applicant to take his or her spot. It is not as if admission is being granted to unworthy candidates of minority descent. Colleges think closely about the students they admit with the goal of admitting a cohesive class where each member will be aided by their fellows as much as by the school.
With this in mind, Charles Vest, former president of MIT, said in defense of affirmative action, “Diversity of a student body is a positive factor in the quality of education and experience of all students on the campus.”
For three of the college applications I submitted last month I had to write an essay on how I would contribute to and benefit from the diversity of the school. I wrote three essays highlighting how I have grown and learned as a result of the diversity of ideas on the Andover campus.
My essays would not have been sincere if I believed that the racial diversity of the schools was not a merit or that some of the students did not deserve to be there because their race offered them an advantage to compensate for a possible discrepancy in opportunity.
Alex Gray is a three-year Senior from New York, NY.