Place, Not Race: A New Vision of Opportunity in America
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From a nationally recognized expert, a fresh and original argument for bettering affirmative action
Race-based affirmative action had been declining as a factor in university admissions even before the recent spate of related cases arrived at the Supreme Court. Since Ward Connerly kickstarted a state-by-state political mobilization against affirmative action in the mid-1990s, the percentage of four-year public colleges that consider racial or ethnic status in admissions has fallen from 60 percent to 35 percent. Only 45 percent of private colleges still explicitly consider race, with elite schools more likely to do so, although they too have retreated.
For law professor and civil rights activist Sheryll Cashin, this isn’t entirely bad news, because as she argues, affirmative action as currently practiced does little to help disadvantaged people. The truly disadvantaged—black and brown children trapped in high-poverty environs—are not getting the quality schooling they need in part because backlash and wedge politics undermine any possibility for common-sense public policies. Using place instead of race in diversity programming, she writes, will better amend the structural disadvantages endured by many children of color, while enhancing the possibility that we might one day move past the racial resentment that affirmative action engenders.
In Place, Not Race, Cashin reimagines affirmative action and champions place-based policies, arguing that college applicants who have thrived despite exposure to neighborhood or school poverty are deserving of special consideration. Those blessed to have come of age in poverty-free havens are not. Sixty years since the historic decision, we’re undoubtedly far from meeting the promise of Brown v. Board of Education, but Cashin offers a new framework for true inclusion for the millions of children who live separate and unequal lives. Her proposals include making standardized tests optional, replacing merit-based financial aid with need-based financial aid, and recruiting high-achieving students from overlooked places, among other steps that encourage cross-racial alliances and social mobility.
A call for action toward the long overdue promise of equality, Place, Not Race persuasively shows how the social costs of racial preferences actually outweigh any of the marginal benefits when effective race-neutral alternatives are available.
safe, racially and ideologically homogeneous districts have no incentive to moderate.56 Beyond the effects of gerrymandering, the ideological and cultural sorting of America into separate places and separate states has greatly diminished the possibilities for robust democracy or for simply relating to the cultural “other.”57 As I write this chapter, one political party controls the governor’s office and both chambers of the legislature in more than two-thirds of the states—the highest number in
reliable feeders or are located where plenty of high achievers from other schools can also get to a presentation. If a college recruiter wants to reach a critical mass of high achievers in one trip, the most efficient and well-travelled route is to areas dense with college-educated parents: urban counties in southern New England, the Mid-Atlantic region, southern Florida, or coastal California or large cities like Chicago, Houston, Dallas, or Atlanta. Hill and Winston suggest that such
Parker. In a typical year, Amherst brings 350 low-income achievers to campus. Attending to the needs of many travel novices for a few days involves a military-like attention to logistics. It requires a commitment not just in money but also the labor and love of the entire admissions team. Says Parker: “You can’t have a ghettoized [diversity recruiter] trying to do this alone. You have to have a diverse staff both racially and socioeconomically, so that the entire team is involved in this. One of
post–civil rights baby, I attended integrated public schools in Alabama during the era when the state and nation were making good on the promise of Brown v. Board of Education. I graduated from S. R. Butler High School in Huntsville in 1980. At the time it was one of the largest schools in the state. Our mascot was the Butler Rebel, a confederate colonel who appeared more avuncular than defiant. Butler was an integrated but majority-white powerhouse in sports and a place where a nerd like me
Education 6, no. 5 (1968); Cashin, Failures of Integration, 83–126; Richard D. Kahlenberg, All Together Now: Creating Middle-Class Schools through Public School Choice (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press, 2001). 55. Aron Trombka et al., “Strengthening the Moderately Priced Dwelling Unit Program: A 30 Year Review,” Montgomery County Council, February 2004, http://www6.montgomerycountymd.gov/content/council/pdf/archive/pr/2004/0205mpdu.pdf. 56. Heather Schwartz, Housing Policy Is School