I am a proud beneficiary of Affirmative Action, when in the 1970s colleges and universities, especially those receiving federal funding, opened their doors of admission to African American and other young adults of color in numbers large enough to be recognizable on these campuses. I am a Wellesley College alumna. As I walked through the gates of Wellesley College in 1971, I was smart, capable, and deserving of an education at this elite school if that was what I chose. While there were Black female students at Wellesley prior to the advent of the Civil Rights Movement and Affirmative Action, the numbers were so small that they were not at all significant to the richness that diversity brings to a community. And let’s be clear, the numbers were not just small because there were not bright, deserving students of color that could be admitted. The numbers were small because Black and other students of color were not being accepted because they were Black irrespective of qualification. The opponents of Affirmative Action rarely acknowledge that reality, which makes me very intolerant of their opposition and find their arguments against the affirmative inclusion of students of color just the other side of the coin of prejudice and discrimination that existed before Affirmative Action.
I do not apologize for the fact that Affirmative Action policy pushed colleges, universities, and many workplaces, to both consider and include people of color in the classroom and on the job. I find it sad and disingenuous when, throughout my college, graduate school, and professional career, the Affirmative Action policy has been used as a bludgeon against me and others suggesting that I was at Wellesley, Brandeis, in any of my professional assignments only because I am Black. My answer to that is, for once, in many generations, I was not denied opportunity because I was Black. Unfortunately, there are African Americans and others of color that carry within them the self-doubt that builds when one takes this foolishness to heart. I am here to tell you to lay that burden down once and for all. We must all stiffen our resolve to ensure that our children and grandchildren, not carry with them any stigma about being able to attain a coveted spot in any college or university.
I took full advantage of the fine education provided by Wellesley College and laud its role in helping to develop my confidence and build the skills that have made me a leader in my professional work, in my community endeavors, and as a wife and mother. When we are honest, we can acknowledge all kinds of preference given to students in college admission and in hiring. Students with legacy-parents, grandparents and others that attended a given college/university, given preference in admission. Are all Legacies the most qualified? No. But a value is placed on the role of alumni in supporting, and perpetuating a college’s reputation, financial stability, and historic importance. And so, children with legacy as one of other valuable qualities is considered and rewarded with admission; and they are qualified enough. The irony for me is that my grandchildren and the grandchildren of others, can one day enjoy “legacy” status as one of the many fine qualities they would bring to Wellesley College, or any other college/university they choose to attend. And isn’t that pretty much the point? Affirmative actions taken in the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s can produce a natural diversity many decades later.
That the Supreme Court is again considering the appropriateness and/or legality of Affirmative Action in college admission, is not only frustrating but so tone-deaf and deliberately oblivious to what is going on in this nation. We continue to fight about Affirmative Action not because colleges and universities are unhappy with or critical of the impact of the diversity created within the student body, or the faculty. And employers and others look to these diverse college communities for their best employees, valuing the richness of the experience their future employees have had on campus. We continue to fight about Affirmative Action because each time, there have been White students and their parents who complain about their inability to get into the school of their choice. They might consider that there are many reasons for that. Affirmative Action has worked and been successful. It has provided previously denied opportunity to a whole group of young people, and in so doing has promoted and encouraged the democratic ideal that is America.