Contrary to its intentions, race-based affirmative action neglects those who are in need of academic support and opportunity, according to Sheryll Cashin, a professor of law at Georgetown University.
Cashin spoke yesterday with a group of students at a Trumbull College Master’s Tea about affirmative action’s role in university admissions and her book “Place, Not Race: A New Vision of Opportunity in America” before debating with the Yale Political Union about mandated mixed income housing. As reflected in her book, Cashin stressed that place-based affirmative action would be more effective in promoting cultural diversity in schools across the country.
She highlighted the importance of finding places in which diversity can flourish and pointed to several examples that promote such pluralism. Cashin explained that many colleges and universities are striving for what she called “optical diversity” rather than genuine diversity of background so as to protect their standings in the U.S. News and World Report’s college rankings.
“What they’re doing is they’re getting that optical diversity with the least risk and the least cost to their U.S. News rankings,” said Cashin. “So the reality of race-based affirmative action is really disadvantaged white kids are competing with affluent white kids, disadvantaged Asians […] are competing with advantaged Asians, and so on down the line.”
Students interviewed said they found Cashin’s critical views of the U.S. News and World Report college and university ranking system particularly salient. Colin Burke ’18 said that her point that U.S. News and World Report’s exclusion of race in their algorithms has an indirect effect on diversity in colleges was particularly important and compelling.
Cashin said she worries that racial resegregation, as well as economic segregation, is adversely affecting public education, which she said comes about because residential patterns are determining zoning for schools rather than pushing for the goal of integration.
Commenting on higher education, Cashin suggested that the tie between selective schools and what she called the “leadership class” creates a moral imperative for those selective schools to consider cultural diversity seriously in their admissions process.
Matt Robinson ’18 said Cashin’s reflection on the college admissions process and affirmative action elucidated why changes must be made in the process, but he also appreciated her positive spin.
“It was surprising and refreshing that she still had a cautiously optimistic outlook on racial relations in America despite all the injustices she sees and writes about everyday,” Robinson said.
Cashin was optimistic that changes would take place in the future, referencing her upcoming book, which focuses on what she calls cultural dexterity — the idea that going forward there will be more meaningful and intimate cross-racial relationships, friendships, marriages and adoptions. Cashin said she estimates that currently roughly 10 percent of whites are what she would consider culturally dexterous and that she hopes that this will soon move up to one-third of whites.
As a positive example of change, Cashin pointed to Texas, where the top 10 percent of high school students receive automatic admission to any public university in Texas. She said that this system not only helped those in the top 10 percent of the class, but also allowed those around them to benefit, as well.
“It’s been a wonderful public policy that has raised the college-going behavior across the state,” said Cashin. “Suddenly places that didn’t think of themselves as incubating college material, I’m talking about low-opportunity schools, think of themselves as places that can send kids to UT, and it’s changing the culture of schools.”