Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s “Race unconscious” ostrich

June 25, 2013

Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Ruth Bader Ginsburg

I’m a few hours late to the Supreme Court affirmative action showdown, but I definitely wanted to put some things on the radar, not least of which is Justice Ginsburg’s amusing reference to ostriches in her dissent (though the visual she was really trying to draw for the public was of the ultimate power napper, but… semantics).  RBG’s point is that there is no race-blind alternative to achieving diversity because racial judgments will never fully go away; those who think so are deluding themselves (cue ostrich…pillow). And I agree.

[For more legal analysis on Fisher v. University of Texas, if you’re into that kind of thing, check out Vinay Harpalani’s blog about the subject (Harpalani is a law professor who conducts prolific research on the topic of affirmative action). For those who don’t care or don’t understand the legal aspect of this issue, here’s an interactive NYTimes post on how minorities have fared with affirmative action bans.  For those who don’t know why they’re even still reading this, what are you doing with your life?]

When I was chair of the Diversity Committee in law school, we put on a panel titled “Diversity in Education” and attempted to engage in uninhibited dialogue about the subject.  It was during this event that I learned of an interesting argument for affirmative action, even if it helps those who don’t need the help. One professor argued that, in order to move closer to the goal of achieving diversity, there needs to be diversity within diversity. That is, a minority group should itself be made up of diverse individuals, even if that means a private school-educated, wealthy kid benefits from the system as well; he/she remains atop the socioeconomic rungs to serve as a role model. Which leads me to this article (worth reading): RIP, American Dream? Why It’s So Hard for the Poor to Get Ahead Today (“It’s a totally different game for high-achieving, low-income students, because nobody tells them how to play it.”)

But, maybe we’re looking at this the wrong way. We should take this as an opportunity to discuss how the application process puts too much onus on factors that aren’t good predicators of success. As this Chronicle of Higher Education article notes (”New requirements should consider ‘grit’—recent research shows that ‘grit’ and self-discipline are better predictors of college completion.”) and this Bloomberg article (discussing how college grads are ill-prepared for real world responsibilities because they lack professionalism) reiterates, the college application process should probably be deprioritizing standardized test scores and putting more value on the development of life skills.

 

In the end (ideally, when race ceases to even be something we need to discuss), however this turns out, I’d like to believe it comes down to everyone trying to do what’s fair and making education as accessible as possible to everyone.



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