Sheryll Cashin, Professor of Law at Georgetown, writes about race relations and inequality in America and is a passionate advocate and sought after speaker. Please follow her on Twitter and Facebook and join the conversation about how to contribute to inclusive multiracial politics in America!
A noted legal scholar analyzes the problems with race-based affirmative action in college admissions and proposes a race-neutral plan as an alternative.
After looking at how and why support for affirmative action policies has eroded in recent years, Cashin (Law/Georgetown Univ.; The Agitator’s Daughter: A Memoir of Four Generations of One Extraordinary African-American Family, 2008, etc.) observes that the goal of diversity has become the mantra of many elite schools. However, to achieve it, they often select students of color who are immigrants or the children of immigrants; this practice creates an “optical” diversity but little socioeconomic diversity. To create real diversity and greater social cohesion, the author proposes that colleges give more weight to the structural disadvantages faced by applicants. By this, she means all forms of disadvantages but especially growing up in a neighborhood where poverty is prevalent, attending a poor school or living in a low-income household. Applicants would be invited to share the disadvantages they have had to overcome, and no special consideration would be given to race or ethnicity. Further, Cashin proposes that financial aid be based solely on need. Existing systems, the author writes, are simply replicating and reinforcing socioeconomic advantage, contrary to colleges’ professed missions and the American ideals of fairness, opportunity and human dignity. In subsequent chapters, Cashin presents two case histories demonstrating how racial coalitions that included Republicans brought about legislative changes that affected higher education in Texas and immigrant rights in Mississippi. Her point is that multiracial alliances that create new collective identities are effective ways to bring about social change. An epilogue that could stand alone but seems appropriate here contains a moving letter from Cashin to her two young sons voicing the hopes and fears of a mother raising black sons in contemporary America.
A sensible proposal backed by hard data.
Sheryll Cashin’s new book, Place Not Race: A New Vision of Opportunity in America, poses a fresh challenge to status-quo arguments swirling around the decaying use of affirmative action to achieve diversity on U.S. college and university campuses.
So how can Americans achieve racial fairness if the birds-eye view of the nation is a patchwork quilt and the on-the-ground experience is starkly segregated?
Cashin argues that what we know of affirmative action—the race-based strategies that the right and left are fighting so fiercely over—will not solve the problem because it doesn’t include discussion of the truly disadvantaged Americans, who are disproportionately black and brown school children isolated in communities with high poverty rates and poor schools. She writes:
This differential experience of place greatly affects opportunity. Only about 30 percent of black and Latino families reside in neighborhoods where less than half of the people are poor. Put differently, less than one-third of the black and Latino children get to live in middle-class neighborhoods where middle-class norms predominate. Meanwhile, more than 60 percent of white and Asian families live in environs where most of their neighbors are not poor.
-Sam Fulwood III