NEITHER the Board of Visitors' proposed summer program to help out disadvantaged students nor the current policy for affirmative action is sufficient to ensure a diverse, knowledgeable student body and a fair application process.
The new program would bring disadvantaged students to the University for two weeks every summer, beginning with eighth grade. The program is supposed to teach these students things they have not learned in order to help them get into college, and urge them to apply to the University. In a personal interview, Dean of Admissions John A. Blackburn explained that the program would train participants in "library skills, footnoting, computer skills and various academic programs."
These eight weeks are supposed to make up for 18 years of inadequate education. How can eight weeks of a good thing possibly compensate for 18 years of a lesser one? While the program would teach new skills to the attendees, it wouldn't ensure that those participants would be prepared to attend the University when the time comes -- or even apply here. Thus, there is no way of knowing if this program would bring adequate racial diversity to the University.
The diversity of the student body can't be sacrificed. The University needs to be representative of the real world and needs to place diverse students with different views together in the same boat. If not, we soon will become a homogenized group of black stretch pants and Abercrombie shirts. This is where we are headed, and we need to find a way to uphold diversity fairly.
But affirmative action isn't fair. Giving an advantage to someone solely on the basis of skin color is wrong. Since admitting a student based on race isn't fair, admitting one who may have had fewer opportunities, regardless of race, is a clear solution.
Advocates of affirmative action argue that race should be a factor in admissions because minorities often have not had the same opportunities that whites have had. While this is sometimes true, what about those low-income whites who haven't had the same opportunities as whites with more money? Fortunately, the proposed summer program includes them, but many affirmative action programs do not.
Most applicants to the University have grown up with numerous benefits, good schooling, strong families and travel experience. But there are many people out there who have had to work extremely hard for the little they have gotten. Their schools aren't nearly as good as those in the middle-class suburban areas most University students come from. They may have dysfunctional or single-parent families, and probably have never left the area they grew up in.
According to Blackburn, "When looking for ideal applicants, all aspects of one's life are taken into consideration, from special talents to grades to overcoming a tough situation to succeed." But this is not enough. The University should start a program to find low-income "strivers." The Educational Testing Service (ETS), the same company that administers the SATs, is doing a case study of a "strivers" program that would award extra points to testers from low socioeconomic classes. This is a great idea but surely will take a long time to develop.
The University needs an answer now. We should replace affirmative action with a program to find "strivers" and offer them admission. True, their numerical qualifications may not be as high as most applicants but this is because they have attended poor schools. The drive that helped them succeed in their low quality high schools certainly would be enough to help them make the step up to college life. Students motivated enough to succeed -- even though they have not had ideal learning or living situations -- are some of the most driven people in the United States. But after attending the University, they would get something their parents or grandparents may never have had -- a college education from a diverse and prestigious university.
Giving "strivers" special attention in the admissions process wouldn't bring down our prestige, but add something we are lacking in -- students strong enough to succeed on the same level as those who have had more benefits in life. This is the diversity we are looking for.
(Brandon Almond is a first-year College student.)