Race based admissions in higher education

The Supreme Court is getting ready to hear a case on affirmative action and in reading the story in the NY times this morning I could not help but be a little triggered.  http://www.nytimes.com/2012/10/09/us/supreme-court-to-hear-case-on-affirmative-action.html?src=recg  

Maybe it is because I am black or am I.  My multiracial mix often leads to mass confusion when trying to stereotype me or fit me into a box on a racial category.  My mother is East Indian and my father is African and Chinese.  They were born in Guyana (also confusing, not Ghana in Africa, but Guyana, North of Brazil next to Venezuela and Suriname (they are in South America for those of you who really suck at geography)) http://www.lonelyplanet.com/the-guianas/guyana  I was a boon to college admissions officers looking for diversity. (Actually I wasn't and was rejected by Boston College and University of Washington, and went to my third choice Seattle University)  Interestingly my dark skin is from my mother and my father is rather fair skinned.  So despite my 25% African blood, all the schools wanted me to choose the box "African American" when applying for financial aid and any other program tracking race.  This was back in the days when multi-racial was not a choice and you had to choose one box.  I typically chose Asian or East Indian.

In the end I went to two private schools Seattle University and then Bastyr University for Medical school.  Both are private and not diverse.  Fall of 1998, my freshman year, Initiative 200 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Initiative_200 passed in Washington State banning race based admissions.  As this topic was in the limelight, I felt many eyes watching me in the discussions that followed in the classrooms and halls.  In the end maybe it was a good thing, I felt tremendous pressure to not "get a free ride" and was determined to get top grades so no one would doubt that I belonged there.  I felt like everyone wondered whether I got into the school based on race. 

In 1999 underrepresented minority enrollment plummeted in Washington State.  In response, Jim Senegal and Jeff Brotman (cofounders of Costco) formed the Costco Scholarship Breakfast http://www.costcoscholarshipfund.org/  Many of you know I was the first student speaker and received a full scholarship at Seattle University for my final 2 years.  (I was also a keynote speaker at the 10th annual breakfast).

In between the lines of these stories and many other cases involving affirmative action is really economics.  Many people of color (including myself) cannot afford higher education and wonder whether the loan/debt system is worth the risk.  My reaction to signing my first loan papers at Seattle University was "Oh I remember this... Indentured Servitude, I get to go to school and in repayment I get to work for the banks for 10-30 years"  This is the story of my East Indian heritage in Guyana, only in the end we did not get the land we were promised.  Higher education for many of us has not proven to be the economic boon or the escape from a life of poverty for many of us.  Arguably, I am poorer now due to the debt.  When comparing my debt to other class mates and friends, I typically have 2-3 to 10 times more school debt (and way less credit card debt, but that is another blog).

I particularly think the case Regents of the University of California v Bakke  in 1978 is an interesting one http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Regents_of_the_University_of_California_v._Bakke This is where a 33 yr old white male was not admitted to University of California at Davis medical school.  He sued and the case went to the Supreme Court, striking down the race quota system there in a 5-4 decision.  It is interesting to note at least with respect to Medical school, if admissions were based on merit alone (GPA and MCAT scores) then the bulk of the doctors would be Asian and East Indian with a handful of white students, as these groups traditionally have the highest GPA and MCAT scores.

I am not going to comment much on this case as I don't know what the reality of the situation is at the University of Texas.  However, I do think her contention that she has been harmed by job discrimination as a result of graduating from Louisiana State University is laughable...  She should see the kind of job discrimination I have experienced (or any other person of color).  She is working in Austin and in the field of her choice.

Clearly these cases if anything reflect the economic divide between minorities and majorities (my new word!), as well as the continued legacy of slavery, the ongoing destruction of native peoples.  I truely hope we do get to a place where race is no longer used or even thought about in admissions to anything, but until then we will all have to keep talking about these tough topics and heal.