It’s become pretty easy to get distracted by the latest melodrama taking place in the White House. Much of it plays like an over-the-top telenovela with enough twists and turns to make you seasick. But while we’re focused on the daily distractions, President Trump’s appointees are at work enacting an agenda that aims to turn back the clock on civil rights.
The latest? An apparent undertaking by the Justice Department to investigate college admissions programs. The department is denying that a broad plan is afoot to take down affirmative action. Justice Department officials say they’re merely seeking volunteers to investigate a discrimination complaint filed by Asian-American associations two years ago, related to Harvard University. But if you’ve paid any attention at all to statements and moves by Trump, you know that it was only a matter of time before the president took aim at affirmative action in college admissions.
From his travel ban, to efforts to weaken Title IX protections for victims of sexual assault and harassment on campuses, to seeking to ban transgender women and men from the military, to anti-immigration policies that threaten children and families, to “joking” that police should be rough on suspects, to ending investigations into troubled police departments, this much is true: Trump is all about divisiveness and factionalism.
So first, let’s get our definitions clear. Affirmative Action is a plan of intentional action to achieve racial diversity among qualified applicants on a campus or workplace. Affirmative Action recognizes the research that diverse people working and learning together benefit the success of the organization as well as the success of the student body and the workers as a whole.
Seeking to use the legal system to undercut affirmative action—or at the very least, attempting to discourage colleges and universities from pursuing policies that promote diversity and inclusion—is especially cynical from someone who has benefited from wealth and unearned privilege his entire life. This privilege allowed him to go from business failure to business failure, use his power to get out of debts, and apply hardball tactics that sometimes forced smaller businesses to go under–and still be elected president of the United States.
Bizarrely, even with all he has accumulated, he manages to stir the grievance pot constantly claiming that he’s the victim of unfairness. President Trump’s narrow worldview blinds him to the hardships that many in our nation cope with each and every day. Because he was born with a silver spoon in his mouth, he thinks nothing of denying others a chance to grasp the brass ring.
The Justice Department’s new look at affirmative action is an example of Trump’s zero-sum philosophy. The Trumpian philosophy has much more in common with reality TV: “I got mine. You get yours.” Neither President Trump nor his appointees understand what Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. knew to be true: “I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. This is the interrelated structure of reality.”
The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that affirmative action is useful in creating diverse student bodies, as long as universities articulate why considering race is necessary to achieve a diverse student body. Citing “merit”, affirmative action critics often point to standardized test scores as a reason to deny some the chance to go to college, failing to see how little a test means and how standardized tests are coded against students of color specifically. Instead, they are choosing to declare merit in ranking standings by standardized tests alone. But we are a multicultural nation, and growing more so. Research suggests that integration not only decreases achievement and wage gaps, but also reduces dropout rates and increases the likelihood that young people of all races and backgrounds will live in the same communities and work side-by-side. This reduces discrimination and increases opportunities for all people.
It makes no sense, then, to dismantle or weaken policies that seek to provide all of us, no matter what our race, with a chance at an education that will enable us to be successful and contribute to our diverse society. The divide-and-conquer schemes of this administration will ultimately make us weaker instead of stronger. We should foster efforts to promote diversity on college and university campuses, not hinder them.