And from Rene Vera, who graduated from UT-Austin in 1996:
I am a Hispanic and was never sure that affirmative action helped me with admission to UT, but I believe it was a factor. I was a terrible high school student, as my father had retired from the military and we moved back to Texas. I went to five high schools in four years and was very disgruntled. I went to Austin Community College and did well, made the Dean’s List. I applied to the University of Texas as a transfer student and obtained admission. I heard the arguments, that affirmative action was bad for minorities because it set us up for failure. But that was not my experience. In most of my classes, I was often tutoring/helping other students. I graduated and later went to get my MBA from another university and did well in my graduate classes. I am now a Senior Technical Recruiter at a large technical company here in Austin.
Long story short, it was a major positive for me. My father was the first person on either side of the family to get a college degree. I was the first to get a graduate degree. Would I have obtained this level of accomplishment if affirmative action did not exist? I don’t know. I would like to think my hard work and intelligence would have brought me to the same place I’m at in my life, but maybe that’s wishful thinking.
Brittany Lee, a 19-year-old student at Hunter College, says she struggled over whether to say she is black on her college application, “so that I could know they wanted the real me and not a quota filler. I wanted the knowledge that I got in because I belonged there.” She decided, though, not to part with a defining factor in her life. “Race is a factor in the way each person of color sees the world,” she writes. “So by adding my race, schools I applied to get to see the ways I'm thinking and the way I view the world. My race is me, and it's not something I want others to not see in me.”
Another reader, a 24-year-old New Yorker, said that while she’s pretty sure affirmative action helped get her into law school—she had top grades, but her LSAT scores were low for her school—she doesn’t credit it for her success since then. “I'm on track to graduate with honors, and I have a job lined up at a large law firm—not because of affirmative action, but because I worked very hard. To anyone who questions whether I was qualified or deserved to get into my school, I would simply answer that my hard work and success proves that I am indeed qualified and deserving.”
This reader also made a point I heard repeatedly: She thinks we’re at the point where it makes more sense to give applicants a boost because of class than because of race. “I grew up poor and I'm sure being poor is a huge disadvantage no matter what race you are, though I don't doubt that it probably is a little more difficult if you're poor and a minority,” she says. “My children will likely grow up in a solidly middle to upper middle class family (thanks to the affirmative action that benefited me). Would they be more deserving of affirmative action than a poor Caucasian student—I think not.”
As a white reader puts it who is applying for government research grants: “My objection is not that those from disadvantaged backgrounds receive special attention and nurturing to enter the competitive, low paying, and ever narrowing career path to scientific research. Instead, it is that qualification can come only from the color of your skin. So that the children of Colin Powell are automatically able to apply to a program meant for people with disadvantaged backgrounds.”
The children-of-Colin-Powell image is a sticking point for a lot of white people, I think, and not just conservatives. Like Lisa:
I was one of the poorer kids at a top university in the early 90s. And I was white, which means I paid my way via loans—I just missed the paltry Pell Grant cutoff and my school didn't care to help poor white kids who weren't really, abjectly poor. Yet I saw lots of upper-middle-class African-American kids there on full scholarships they didn't need. These kids came from the same urban private schools and the same upbringing as the rich white kids in my class who were paying their way. These kids hadn't grown up in the South, and had only rarely experienced any adversity based on their race. They brought their skis to school just like the other rich white kids, so didn't feel the scorn I experienced when asked where your skis are stored. They added almost no diversity of experience to the class, while adding everything in terms of race-based affirmative action numbers.
I've been on admissions committees—I was on the admissions committee at my MBA school (top in the world by some rankings). Ideally, you're looking for diverse experiences—not diverse skin color. But you DO have to keep an eye on the stats, which don't take class or experience into account, only race/ethnicity.