The White House recently rescinded Obama-era affirmative action guidelines that encouraged university admissions to consider race in an effort to increase diversity in higher education. While the move does not change federal law, it paves the way for a slew of new legal challenges around the idea that affirmative action is “unnecessary, outdated … or otherwise improper.”
The University is right in remaining steadfast in its dedication to diversity. Yet UT is still far from perfect. Texas is nearly 13 percent African-American, yet black students make up less than 5 percent of the state’s flagship university. Our state is 39 percent Hispanic — our school, just 20 percent. Affirmative action is a helpful tool, but one that nonetheless must be sharpened with other measures.
Kevin Foster, an associate professor of African and African diaspora studies, explains that affirmative action creates a diverse set of worldviews on campus and is necessary to right the wrongs of ongoing discrimination. Although people of color are equal under the law, few enjoy equal opportunity.
“UT ends up with the same percentages of students year in and year out,” Foster said, referencing the demographics on campus. He advocates for additional measures to promote campus diversity.
UT should first better position scholarships to the areas that need them most. Affirmative action policies only remove half of the barrier for minorities; finances are a whole other problem. Even when a minority applicant earns admission, they may still be turned away by tuition. By extending scholarships to applicants who are first-generation students or from majority-minority regions, students who are likely to come from disproportionately lower-income families will gain greater access to the assistance that is often a necessary companion to admission.
To further attract minority students, exposure is just as important as economics. Many low-income minority students do not even apply to top universities because they are told throughout their lives, indirectly and unintentionally, that these institutions are not for them. Sponsoring school programs, inviting schools to university events and even distributing free merchandise are effective ways to familiarize high schoolers with a university. UT’s early investment in underprivileged high schools communicates a vital message to these students — UT-Austin is a possibility, not a pipe dream.
“There are a number of ways to achieve (diversity) goals if anybody is actually committed to it. I think it’s worth questioning how committed a university is,” Foster said. “(Admissions) can … use good moral and ethical judgment to come up with a really great student body where all the students are ready and able to succeed. And yet we don’t get that.”
UT has been a champion of affirmative action in the face of a critical nation. We desire diversity, but ever-present disparities prove that we must double down. If it is truly committed to a diverse campus, UT admissions should use even more robust policies to buttress affirmative action.
Longhorns have a responsibility to provide opportunity to those without privilege. Diversity improves education for every student by welcoming different experiences and thoughts, challenging preconceptions and mirroring the outside world. UT’s continuation of affirmative action in spite of misinformed backlash is a victory for every student, yet we must continuously improve our outreach strategies to create a 40 Acres for all.
Chandler is a journalism and government sophomore from Houston. Follow him on Twitter at @RyanChandler98.