What’s that Ginger Rogers quote about doing everything Fred Astaire does, but backwards and in high heels?
Turns out that young women applying for college have to substantially out-perform their male peers to secure themselves a space.
Rest assured that admissions officers are not cavalier in making their decisions. Last week, the 10 officers at my college sat around a table, 12 hours every day, deliberating the applications of hundreds of talented young men and women. While gulping down coffee and poring over statistics, we heard about a young woman from Kentucky we were not yet ready to admit outright. She was the leader/president/editor/captain/lead actress in every activity in her school. She had taken six advanced placement courses and had been selected for a prestigious state leadership program. In her free time, this whirlwind of achievement had accumulated more than 300 hours of community service in four different organizations.
Few of us sitting around the table were as talented and as directed at age 17 as this young woman. Unfortunately, her test scores and grade point average placed her in the middle of our pool. We had to have a debate before we decided to swallow the middling scores and write “admit” next to her name.
Had she been a male applicant, there would have been little, if any, hesitation to admit.
How I remember this from high school. I can’t say I’m particularly bitter, because I ended up at my ideal school, but I remember sending out a dozen applications and getting two rejections — one from a fairly elite east coast university that a male aquaintance of mine got in to. Which would be fine, except that I had taken almost every honors and AP class offered at my high school, and he wasn’t in a single one of them. His GPA was mediocre, as were his SAT scores (I don’t know exactly what they were, but I think his SATs hovered somewhere around 1000). He was decent at a sport, which I suppose was the tipping point, but didn’t do any other activities or community service. I remember, despite not being particularly attached to that school, feeling like it was a little unfair. Not my rejection, per se — because people get rejected all the time, they have thousands of amazing candidates, and I certainly didn’t feel like I was a “victim” of their admissions policies. But, you know, it was a little thorn in my side.
Now, I can already see the argument coming: “But you support affirmative action to diversify the student body. Why not support admissions policies that favor men over women in order to keep the student body diverse?”
First, I should say that I’m not unilaterally opposed to these policies. I think they have a place, just not to the degree that they’re currently used. Second, my view on affirmative action is that it’s a bandaid on a much larger problem. Affirmative action is necessary because race in this country is still meaningfully linked to economic and social class. Certain racial groups have been historically disenfranchised and oppressed, and that disenfranchisement and oppression continues today. That has an effect on access to resources, financial stability and education. Wealthier, whiter neighborhoods tend to have better schools because property taxes there are higher and so their schools are better funded. White students don’t grow up with the same social baggage that black and brown students deal with on a daily basis — the small acts of discrimination and bigotry that are too often invisible for people (like me) who come from places of privilege. Affirmative action is a recognition that we aren’t on an even playing field, and that certain groups of people start life out with substantially more advantage than others.
A better solution, of course, is to work to level the playing field from the get-go, so we’re all on the same starting line. But doing that through legislation has generally failed (thanks to both political parties), and social shifts have to happen as well in order to make it any sort of reality. That has been slow-moving. So affirmative action addresses the problem the best way that a program instituted that late in the educational process can.
In that sense, affirmative action is both an attempt to even things out (albeit a later than would be ideal) as well as an expression that institutions of higher learning value diversity, and that an academic body made up of lots of different kinds of people with lots of different viewpoints is preferable to one that is homogenous.
That first objective isn’t acheived by admitting less-qualified men just because of their gender. Another issue is the fact that women generally have to go to college in order to secure themselves a well-paying job (unless they want to be strippers or prostitutes, two occupations which pay women better than men). There are many traditionally male careers that are well paying and don’t demand any sort of higher education. Women, of course, can choose those occupations as well, but they’re harder for us to break in to.
If young men aren’t acheiving as highly as young women — and, apparently, they aren’t — it isn’t because of historical disenfranchisement, or lack of access to resources, or pervasive social forces which continue to hold them down. People of all races, social classes and economic groups are split pretty evenly down the middle when it comes to sex — about half of all priveleged people are men, and about half of all non-privileged are men as well (not that it divides that easily into two categories, but you understand what I mean). Now, there are certainly degrees of privilege which are compounded by gender, but being male isn’t typically a disadvantage. So I’m not sure that you can make the same argument for “male affirmative action” as you can for race-conscious admissions policies. Thoughts?
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