Last week over dinner, Misa and John-Pio and I talked about my life as a college student. I shared the story again about where I went, why, and how I got there. It's a long story really, but in short, I got to the University of Utah by way of other colleges that rejected me. Today is S, countdown 8 days, and as John-Pio celebrates summer birthdays, I'm celebrating Justice Sonia Sotomayer.
You undoubtedly heard in the news that in late April, the United States Supreme Court, by a vote of 6 to 2, did not overrule an amendment to Michigan's state constitution regarding its admissions policies to public universities. The amendment which was passed in 2006 stated that admissions to a public university "shall not discriminate against or grant preferential treatment to, any individual or group on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin." It had been passed to shut down an admissions program at the University of Michigan that was designed to increase the diversity of the student population. In fact, now other states are prepared to pass their own laws against the practice, too.
In other words, public opinion has turned strongly against affirmative action policies and Justice Sonia Sotomayor, a fierce defender of "race-sensitive admissions," is facing an uphill battle. I was one of those minorities who, without affirmative action, would not have been admitted into the university where I ended up studying. Historically, it's always been more difficult for a member of a racial minority to attend college so when I learned that the admissions policies at the University of Michigan would stick, I felt a tinge of despair.
I'm struck by the quandary of having respect for the democratic process (after all, the voters won and the amendment passed) while at the same time, wanting badly for it to have been overruled for the sake of diversity in education. Can the goal of educating all citizens and be achieved without the help of race-based admissions policies?
Recently I listened to an interview by Sheryll Cashin. She wrote a book titled, Place, Not Race, and in it she proposes that we reimagine affirmative action. She suggested that universities recruit students from single-parent and less-educated families; give full scholarships to students from inner-city schools and follow the example of Texas that requires their public universities to accept the top 10 percent of students from every high school. In other words, it's possible that class-based admissions policies can help bring diversity to colleges and universities, while also serving an underrepresented community - like students from poor or middle class backgrounds.
Lets face it: inequality is continuing to rise. College tuitions are increasing and college admissions offices have a responsibility to find ways to bring students of all economic backgrounds to their institutions. Increasing economic diversity and maintaining ethnic diversity without racial preferences will be hard, but if more and more states continue to try passing laws like Michigan's, then class-based admissions will help. And anyway, it strikes me that if a college can afford to recruit quality athletes, then surely they can find ways to recruit more heavily from poor and minority communities.
Earlier in the year I was reading Justice Sonia Sotomayor's memoir, My Beloved World and every so often I would read a selection out loud to the kids - her story is relevant and I relate to it. Later, I pulled up Justice Sonia Sotomayor's amazing, eloquent dissent and skimmed through the first 45 or so pages, then read the last 10 or so, and I will say, that her account of the effects of discrimination, especially the feeling it may give a citizen that s/he "doesn't belong here," is powerful. Y'all should put it on your list, and while you're at it - if you haven't already read it, pick up Justice Sonia Sotomayor's memoir.