Personal experience (not race) makes a college applicant

Jeremy Stroming

It’s the issue that won’t go away because there is no clear solution. When it comes to affirmative action, taking a side is a delicate matter since it is hard to oppose a policy that combats racism and helps out disadvantaged groups. This year the Supreme Court takes another look at the issue, with implications for potential college applicants for years to come.

It’s time that a clear standard is set, one where personal background—and not race—is a determining factor in admissions.

A remnant of the 1960s civil rights movement, affirmative action programs give an active advantage to minority groups that were previously discriminated against. It often comes up in college admissions and scholarships. This is why you hear Liberty students complain about struggling to find a unique cultural identity in the admissions process.

The issue was first challenged in 1978, when the Supreme Court banned racial quotas (set numbers of minority students) in admissions. To this day however, race may still be considered in the admissions process. In 2006, Michigan attempted to ban affirmative action in colleges statewide, but this year, the dispute went before the Supreme Court again. The Michigan law should be struck down, but not for the reasons you might think. While race on its own should not make or break an applicant, college campuses would stand to lose important diversity if the law stood as precedent.

A good learning environment thrives on diverse ideas and interesting discussions that stem from a diverse student body. However, some admissions officers mistakenly identify ethnic status of an applicant as the chief source of their identity. This could be the case, but in my mind, who a person is depends more on their experiences than their race. Colleges should look at where an applicant comes from, and what they did with the opportunities they were given. This approach should give comfort to the applicant majority of “upper-middle class suburban white kids”.

It’s an unfortunate reality that strict academic standards can still limit some disadvantaged minorities. It’s hard to argue that a girl, the youngest of six, growing up in a poor, urban, Hispanic household should be held to exactly same academic standards as someone at an East Coast prep school. I think both students are valuable and interesting since they have different experiences and perspectives. It should come down to what each did with what was given. Limited affirmative action is a byproduct of weighing applicants by the world they come from. Laws like Michigan’s could jeopardize this practice because colleges would be afraid of appearing to cross a line.

If done correctly, racial status should neither hurt nor help anyone in admissions. Ethnicity is a factor that contributes to one’s experience, nothing more. Liberty students are much better off than many of the applicants they are competing against. The only thing you can do is to prove your experiences are valuable. And don’t sweat it when you can’t check the box for Native Alaskan or Pacific Islander on the next application.