I don’t want that admissions officer to consider that, perhaps here and there, someone, somewhere, underestimated them because both of their parents aren’t white. In the 2020s, that will have happened so seldom to them, as upper-middle-class persons living amid America’s most racially enlightened Blue American white people, that I’m quite sure it will not imprint them existentially any more than it did me, coming of age in the 1970s and 1980s.
I don’t want the admissions officer to consider my children’s “diversity.” For one thing, their diversity from the other kids in their neighborhoods, classrooms and lives is something of an abstraction. They wear clothes from Old Navy, watch (and rewatch) “Frozen” and “Encanto,” and play a lot of Roblox, just like their peers. And I will never forget a line from a guidebook that Black students at Harvard wrote two decades ago: “We are not here to provide diversity training for Kate and Timmy.” Yep — and if we salute the enterprising undergrads who wrote that, we must question the general thrust of the sundry amicus briefs that will be offered in the Harvard and U.N.C. cases, about how kids of color are vital to a campus because of their diversity, echoing the statement of Harvard’s president, just this week, that “Considering race as one factor among many in admissions decisions produces a more diverse student body which strengthens the learning environment for all.”
“Diversity” has become one of those terms (and ideas) that makes us feel cozy inside, like freshly baked blueberry muffins and “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” But how would you feel about looking a Black undergraduate in the eye and saying, “A lot of the reason we wanted you here, on our campus, is your differences from most of the other students and the life lessons they can learn from them”? Someone says, “I want my kids to interact with Black students before they go out into the world.” I ask, “Just what was it about Black people that you were hoping your kids would learn?”
There are ripostes to this, of course. Some would say that we need to maintain racial preferences in admissions until we’ve eliminated inequalities between Black, Latino, Native American and white America — no differences in wealth, educational opportunities, health outcomes or access to the ballot. (Note that Asian Americans are a somewhat different case, broadly speaking, that we might take up another time.) I understand that argument but consider it flawed, for two very straightforward reasons.
First, where is the evidence that maintaining racial preferences in admissions, at the nation’s most selective universities, is the only, the best or even a reasonably effective way to rectify those inequalities? In individual cases, certainly, some students of color will receive, and capitalize on, opportunities that they otherwise may not have had. But the persistence of the wealth gap, after generations of affirmative action, suggests that somewhere along the way, we’ve missed the mark, policy-wise.
Second, if you’ve raised your kids amid economic adversity, you most likely will understand and even support having those circumstances taken into account in their evaluation by a university, even if you’re not part of a racial minority. But suppose that those aren’t your circumstances, that you’re middle class or above and aren’t Black, Latino or Native American. How would you feel about your kids being admitted to a university because of their “diverseness” from other kids rather than, well, their selves?