The Cavalier Daily
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Augmenting affirmative action

DIVERSITY. It seems that all anybody can talk about when it comes to college admissions is that never-ending quest for variance. Students and administrators constantly are searching for a clear definition of what it means to be diverse. But in working to achieve diversity, schools have begun to question the legality of current methods and even diversity's necessity.

Last spring, diversity fever hit the University when a study by the Center for Equal Opportunity declared its admissions practices to be illegal. The University's methods were attacked because they considered race to be a positive factor.

In response to the study, Board of Visitors Rector John P. Ackerly III appointed a committee in January to look into the legality of the admissions process. In a personal interview, Dean of Admissions John A. Blackburn described the University's admissions process as "holistic." He also said that the Office of Admissions tries to shape each class to create a diverse student body, which sometimes includes race as a factor.

As a possible alternative to current admissions practices, the Office of Admissions and the Provost's Office submitted a joint proposal last Friday. The plan would create a summer informational program for underprivileged minority students. During this program, select middle and high school students could get to know the University on a more personal basis. It would give students a chance to become familiar with specific academic and social programs that were of special interest to them. Students also would be invited to attend this program every year until their senior year in high school.

In the future, the Office of Admissions possibly could replace their affirmative action practices with this summer program. However, if this plan were to operate without affirmative action, U.Va.'s diversity would suffer. The University should offer this innovative summer program along with its current admissions procedures. This would ensure that every student, no matter his or her economic or racial background, has an opportunity to attend this prestigious university.

The program would have a profound effect on the way minority students view the University and its community. It provides students with a chance to explore the University in depth before they are admitted -- a chance they might not get at other colleges and universities.

Some minority students, many from lower socioeconomic backgrounds than other students, also may feel that they do not have the ability to gain admission to a prestigious school such as the University. They may not even apply because the high school they attended was low-caliber or does not have a reputation for sending many students to college each year.

According to Blackburn, the University does a tremendous amount of soliciting of outstanding students, but by extending personal invitations to this special summer session, it would demonstrate to minority and underprivileged students that their presence is valuable and that they really do make a difference.

The program would invite about 700 students each summer. While at the University, students would get to know the school in a way no tour or high school guidance counselor could ever duplicate.

University administrators and current students can showcase the importance and impact of minorities at the University. During the program, the University will get the chance to boast its many culturally oriented student groups such as La Sociedad Latina and the Black Student Alliance. Students can learn what these groups do and what they do for University life.

Minority students also can explore the University's variety of classes and majors. Then, more minorities may apply to schools and programs in which they are underrepresented. Prospective students will see, first-hand, the importance of their presence at the University to its academic, extra-curricular and social environments.

This program cannot be successful in enticing minority and underprivileged students to apply to the University without an admissions process that levels the playing field. Minorities still face disadvantages all over the United States. Many schools can provide students with the best education money can buy, but there are a great many schools in low-income areas that can not. As a result, students may have lower test scores and not-so-shiny applications to present to colleges. "Sometimes we find students who have come from a poor background, but have become top students in that environment. We take our hats off to these students," said Blackburn.

In the true spirit of America, every student deserves a chance to go to college. A lower socioeconomic standing should not prevent hard-working, intelligent students from participating in higher education. Affirmative action gives underprivileged kids, who must excel using the limited education they are given, the chance to compete and succeed on a challenging level.

The summer program will be effective in gaining the interest of students who would not have considered the University an option before. These students do need to know, though, that when they apply to the University, their less privileged background or possibly lower test scores will not hold them back.

Each student contributes greatly to the personality, culture and depth of the University. With the new program, the University hopefully will attract some of this country's brightest minority and underprivileged students. But if affirmative action is not used in conjunction with this new program, we will be taking one giant step away from that sought-after goal -- diversity.

(Erin Perucci is a Cavalier Daily associate editor.)