I am fortunate that I entered college in California when affirmative action still existed, but it wasn’t too long after I began my higher education journey that voters approved Proposition 209, which prohibited state governmental institutions from considering race, sex, or ethnicity, in public higher education admissions. Education advocates have long known that affirmative action was/is a viable tool to correct inequities in an education system that was never intended for Blacks, Chicanos and Latinos, Native Americans, and Asians.
In the years after Prop 209 became law, the first year enrollment rates at the University of California (UC) for Black and Chicano/Latino students declined. In recent years, we have seen a higher percentage of Chicano and Latino students enroll at the premiere public university system in the state, and this is largely due to the shifting demographics. Yet the enrollment rates for Black students have not changed much from where they were in the mid-1990s for first-year students. According to a 2016 UC survey, high achieving Black students reported not wanting to enroll in the UC system because of the lack of diversity. These UC eligible Black students have opted to attend private institutions, historically Black colleges and universities, and even more diverse California State Universities.
The Trump administration announced on Tuesday, right before the July 4 holiday, that it would cease Obama administration policies that called on universities to consider race as a factor in diversifying their campuses. While the Supreme Court has said that race can be used as a factor in a limited way to promote diversity at public institutions of higher education, the Trump administration is sending a message that it does not support taking race into account in admissions decisions even when the high court has indicated that it is ok to do so. This announcement coincides with the opportunity that Trump has to pick another Supreme Court Justice. Trump has basically launched another assault on our Black and Brown communities in withdrawing Obama-era guidance documents that encouraged schools and colleges to promote diversity.
The irony is that Trump and many of the people around him have benefitted from their own kind of white, wealthy affirmative action. President Trump has had access to the best schools, yet he doesn’t like to read. He enjoys plenty of ‘executive time’ on the golf course, and he has staffed his cabinet with people who are in positions that they aren’t even marginally qualified to perform. For example, Trump selected a former brain surgeon to run the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and our current Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, has no degree in education or teaching. Furthermore, she has never even attended a public school. Recent history tells us that the Black president who preceded Trump could not get away with being this unprepared and incompetent in staffing executive agencies.
Let’s look at how Trump has selected his daughter as an advisor and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner. Ivanka Trump was supposed to be a champion for women and was reported to be developing a child care plan. She has failed to come with up any concrete policy or say much while the Trump administration separates families who are seeking asylum. Jared Kushner was tasked with solving the opioid crisis and making peace in the Middle East, yet he has no qualifications in public health or diplomacy and hasn’t made measurable progress on those monumental tasks. Despite their failures to make progress in these policy areas, Jared and Ivanka are still there, benefitting from the office of the presidency.
Before I forget, Kushner also benefited from white, wealthy affirmative action even before he joined the Trump family. There was the special preference that Kushner received when he was accepted to Harvard as an undergraduate and did not have the SAT scores or GPA that would make him competitive as an applicant. Kushner’s father greased the wheels at Harvard with a $2.5 million gift before he was accepted.
President Trump is throwing Black and Brown students under the bus, which is no surprise given his overt racism. But we need to remind ourselves that President Trump and a lot of the people surrounding him have benefitted from their own special preferences that will discredit any messaging that the administration attempts about merit and hard work.
Alma V. Marquez
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