Justice or Just Us?
Last month, the staff of the Oklahoma Board of Regents for Higher Education recommended that the state phase out its minority graduate student scholarship program. Staff characterized these adjustments as part of an effort to reaffirm the board’s “social justice policy and objectives.”
Earlier this year, fearing that a federal judge might shut down an undergraduate scholarship program over allegations the program illegally discriminates against Whites, a group of Black state legislators intervened to save the program. But then, in a process so discreet that many of the officials Black Issues called to discuss it weren’t even aware it had happened, the board stopped accepting applicants to the graduate scholarship program. It is worth noting that the all-White, all-male board made these decisions after a White student sued, claiming that the undergraduate scholarship discriminated against Whites.
There is no telling when this cycle will end. But it is unsettling that so many institutions are abandoning programs that were created in the spirit of achieving social justice just as they are beginning to bear fruit. And then, they have the audacity to cloak that abandonment in the name of social justice.
Nevertheless, some committed souls continue to fight the good fight.
The College Board issued a call last month for “affirmative development,” in an attempt to point resources toward high-achiever pipeline initiatives with a proven track record (see story, pg. 16). The logic is that if the production of minority high-achievers can be increased exponentially, the effect of anti-affirmative action initiatives can be blunted.
Meanwhile, the leadership of the Association of American Medical Colleges has once again called upon its members to redouble their efforts to recruit and retain minority students in medical schools (see story, pg. 14). The plea was made after this year’s application and enrollment data show that minorities are gradually fading from among the ranks of medical school aspirants.
John Maupin, M.D., president of the Morehouse School of Medicine, says one reason higher education is in the boat it is in is because it has failed to adopt a comprehensive intervention model. Systemic change, involving multiple reform strategies at all levels of education, is the only lasting remedy. It must become a “part of the very fabric of what you do,” he says.
So, instead of investing in either recruitment or retention of minority college students, why not do both and coordinate these efforts with compatible retention and achievement initiatives at the K-12 level? Perhaps while creating more scholarships for postsecondary education’s minority high-achievers, an effort can be made to end the practice of student tracking at the primary and secondary level and ensure that every child is engaged in a college-prep curriculum.
And maybe colleges and universities that pledge their support for diversity could make a genuine effort to transform curriculum, reassess faculty/staff hiring and promotion practices, and abandon campus traditions that alienate students and faculty of color. Surely remedies like these are expensive, but the need for race-based scholarships or race-sensitive admissions practices might no longer exist if such measures had been taken decades ago.
In any case, if the current histrionics surrounding affirmative action result in the kind of systemic reform Maupin talks about, perhaps social justice can be achieved. Then, choices between “just them” or “just us” won’t apply, because equitable preparation and access to opportunity will be the norm. And everyone will be better off.
Cheryl D. Fields
© Copyright 2005 by DiverseEducation.com