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Affirmative Action Remains Cloudy, Panelists Say

Published: Thursday, October 29, 2009

Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 19:01

At a panel hosted by FACES Tuesday night, students and faculty alike voiced strong opinions that, regardless of the tensions and perceived unfairness associated with affirmative action, they do not believe that now is the time for the abolishment of these policies. However, they argued that there needs to be more administrative transparency regarding how affirmative action is implemented at Boston College.

To define affirmative action's place at the University, the panelists said, we need the administration to offer information regarding their affirmative action statistics. "We don't know who is the most beneficiary group of affirmative action; admissions won't release this data," said panelist Michael Reer, editor-in-chief of The Observer and A&S '10. "We should encourage them to do this. That way we can have an honest discussion about whether we need more gender affirmative action or more race affirmative action and to analyze the place of affirmative action."

Rachel Lamorte, president of the College Democrats and A&S '10, agreed. "Transparency about affirmative action at the University would be helpful," she said. "A lot of people don't fully understand affirmative action or how it is implemented at BC. If we can have information from the admission department we could pinpoint any problems they have and have an honest discussion about solutions."

Micah Conkling, a FACES council member and A&S '10, said that the admissions department failed to respond to requests to send a representative to sit on this panel.A central, common misconception of affirmative action, the panelists said, was that it only applies to race. "No one talks about affirmative action in regards to the children of alumni or donors," said panelist Sidney Holloway, an associate director in Office for Institutional Diversity. "It's the same thing; these students are getting the same breaks."

"For example, public schools in this country are not equal and affirmative action in regards to college campuses helps to remedy those types of things," Lamorte said. "There is a common misconception that it allows unqualified people into college, and that's not true."

Lamorte said that unavoidable differences exist in the opportunities available to students from different socioeconomic backgrounds, and that this proves the necessity of affirmative action. "Students that do not have the time to study for the SAT because they are working or the money to pay for a prep class are not going to get as high of scores as someone that goes to a prep school," she said.

Reer said that affirmative action is filling any and all voids that a college or company perceives themselves as having. "Affirmative action encourages the participation of underrepresented groups on campus," Reer said. "Academically, it is taking a person because of circumstance beyond academic record. The indicator is about if a person can come and thrive and give back to this community."

FACES picked a variety of panelists for this event based on a desire to hear from different political and social perspectives. They felt that these were panelists who would bring different opinions as to the definition and place of affirmative action on college campuses. "Respectful disagreement is crucial to this discussion," Conkling said.

Reer said that, in today's society, affirmative action policies should really be most focused on alleviating inequalities pertaining to one's socioeconomic standing. "There needs to be less emphasis on racial affirmative action and more on socioeconomic affirmative action," Reer said. "There is no longer the assumption that racial minorities come from low socioeconomic backgrounds. A much better starting baseline to base affirmative action is socioeconomic levels."

Holloway's arguments, most of which were in favor of the maintenance of affirmative action, centered around the necessity of affirmative action in increasing cultural awareness in the college setting. "You are doing a disservice to people if we do not provide a diverse community," Holloway said. "For when you go into the world, you're definitely going to meet diversity."

Reer said that, though affirmative action gives way to a diverse community, misunderstanding of the policies have the potential to lead to classism. "If you know that BC gives heavy affirmative action to students from low socioeconomic levels, people may say they only got into BC because of affirmative action," Reer said. "We need to make sure that if they get into BC, they won't have to face the same [discrimination] as before."

Holloway said that, despite historical and current efforts to create racial and gender equality, white males still held power. "Statistically, power is still with white males," Holloway said. "And given the natural tendency that people will hire people that look like them, we need objective criteria and regulations in hiring policies."

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