In a previous post, I pointed out that the University of Texas admits that they deliberately give black applicants an advantage over white applicants. I also pointed out that technically, this fits the definition of institutional racism against whites (or, I suppose, one could argue it should be called institutional beneficent racism towards black people, but really, the semantics aren’t the point here).
But there are arguments for why this is potentially a good idea. I want to discuss under what circumstances I think it is a good idea to give a student an advantage. That is, under what circumstances should a school say ‘Student A has higher scores, but we should take student B anyway?’
I believe schools should go by merit (I don’t think it’s fair to do it any other way, regardless of the potential pragmatic benefits that might come from non-merit-based admissions). But I don’t think that always means taking the student with the highest scores. A student may have personal circumstances that have hampered their performance. For example, if student B’s family is poor, she may have had to take on a part-time job, while student A did not. In that case, student A had more time to study, so even if B’s scores are a little lower, we could argue she shows more potential than A. There could be other factors as well, like having a single parent household, which arguably could have caused B to perform worse than A, despite having higher potential. In those cases, I could certainly approve of admitting B over A.
The question then becomes: should race be considered a factor that hampers education, at the primary and secondary levels? Well… that’s a tough question to answer. I would have to firmly say ‘maybe, but probably not as much as people think.’ What I mean by this is that to consider race as such to be a factor, I would need to see evidence that within a given race, students of similar economic background at similar schools are being given less attention from teachers as a general rule to those students of other races. And I don’t think anyone can say that this is the case – except perhaps with certain specific schools or teachers. I’m sure there are racist teachers. There’s probably also teachers who go out of their way to help minorities, though. And saying ‘well, students from this demographic do worse on tests than that demographic’ doesn’t show anything in itself about whether there’s deliberate and general bias against the demographic. There’s many other factors to consider, like the quality of the schools, the family economics, etc. One cannota priori use differences in test scores to assume there’s some kind of bias going on as a general rule.
So what I would do is, instead of using race itself as a factor, use these other characteristics to decide which students to accept despite having lower scores. Take the students who come from poor backgrounds, from unstable backgrounds, from low-quality schools, and give them all an edge, regardless of their ethnicity. These will likely contain a high percentage of minorities, but will probably also contain some white students, Asian students, and so on. If a student comes from a specific school known to have a bias against a given race, then give them an edge based on race. That way, you give all students from disadvantaged backgrounds a boost, and in the process, you will naturally help more students from ethnicities that tend to have lower incomes or attend poorer primary and secondary schools. And even if race is one factor that is used temporarily, these other disadvantageous factors should also be accounted for.