This fall, two court cases have propelled affirmative action back onto the national stage. On Oct. 10 the Supreme Court heard the case of Fisher v. University of Texas, and on Nov. 15, the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against a ban on affirmative action in Michigan universities, in Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action v. University of Michigan.
The Fisher case marks the first Supreme Court hearing on affirmative action in higher education since the 2003 case Grutter v. Bollinger. Plaintiff Abigail Fisher—a white, 22 year old woman—filed the suit against the University of Texas on the basis of discrimination after the institution failed to admit her in 2008. A ruling is expected by June 2013.
In Michigan, however, the issue is centered on the constitutionality of a voter-approved referendum passed in 2006, which mandated a ban against race-based considerations in the college admission process. The 6th Circuit Court has deemed the ban unconstitutional, but the ruling will remain on hold until the Supreme Court decides to accept or reject an appeal from Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette.
Diversity at Macalester
As the nation awaits the fate of affirmative action, integration and diversity in education are, once again, areas of consideration for students at Macalester.
“Diversity is kind of one of those buzzwords for the school,” said Christian Smith ’15.
Like any buzzword though, “diversity” proves difficult to define. There are, of course, the objective statistics: breakdowns of race/ethnicity, nationality and sex. There are also the more subjective and individualized perceptions of individual students.
According to some, Macalester’s diversity is more myth than reality, an exaggerated selling point.
“When I was applying they really put a lot of emphasis on internationalism and I expected to see a lot of culture and a lot of diversity,” said Emily Muscat ’16. “And getting here, I’ve really found that it’s mostly white kids. I see very, very little domestic diversity.”
“Before arriving, I received many brochures both boasting of high proportions of students of color and displaying pictures disproportionately displaying people of color,” said Cameron Kesinger ’14. “Based on this information, my perception was that Macalester was extremely diverse—socioeconomically, sexually, racially, and internationally. My perception now depends on how diversity is being defined.”
Other students believe that the definition of diversity has been constricted and simplified by other Macalester “buzzwords.”
“We equate internationalism with diversity,” said Amani Mekraz ’16. “I would argue that diversity in domestic students is not emphasized equally.”
However, not all students agree that there’s a lack of diversity.
“I thought American students were just one homogenous group but now I discovered that there are many,” said international student Bassem El-Remesh ’16.
For some, the experience of diversity is not situational but individually constructed.
“We have the diversity on campus, but amongst ourselves we stay with people from similar backgrounds,” said Samia Habli ’16. “I think people should take advantage of it more.”
For many students, the issue of diversity has carried over into their social and educational experiences, informing their time at Macalester.
“I took Cultural Anthropology my first semester,” Smith said. “Our professor would be saying something about a culture from this or this region of the world and then someone from that region of the world would express why they agreed or disagreed…that class really solidified why I was here and why I felt that Mac would help me to grow.”
“Often, our class will have discussions on racial privilege and no one in the room will have experienced racial discrimination of any kind,” said Kesinger. “As a Hispanic Studies major I’ve read plenty about what it is like to be Latino in the United States, but rarely in class have I heard someone’s personal experience.”
“I’m happy with the friends that are students of color that I have,” Mekraz said. “But as for my background, there’s definitely very few of us.”
According to the Institutional Research Factbook, Macalester currently enrolls 2,070 students. Of these students, 1,235 are female and 835 are male, meaning the entire population is split 60/40. Additionally, there are currently 1,371 students who identify as white, 143 who identify as Asian, 129 who identify as Hispanic, 99 who identify as two or more races, 58 who identify as black or African American and 4 who identify as Native American (the remaining 266 are “nonresident aliens”).
According to these statistics, 66 percent of the population is white. The next most highly represented group makes up about six percent of the population, and less than three percent of the entire student body identifies as African American/black.
“In making admissions decisions we, like other highly selective liberal arts colleges, have a holistic review process,” said Director of Admissions Jeff Allen. “Within this framework, race is considered among many other identities/factors. The same is true of gender. Our goal is to deconstruct the full context in which a student has studied and therefore understand the academic and extracurricular contributions each student could make to the Macalester community if admitted.”
Some students would like to see the framework improved.
“Racially, I feel that there is a dramatic underrepresentation of domestic students of color on Macalester’s campus,” said Kesinger, “I think that this is a sad statement about the consequences of our change from need-blind admission policy and our recruitment strategies.”
Other students remain more moderate in their views.
“I think it would be excellent to see more domestic students of color on this campus,” said Smith. “I am really, really, really, really, really pro-affirmative action, but at the same time, there is far more racial diversity here than at any of the other schools I was considering and that includes state schools and other small and private liberal arts schools.”
Regardless of the results of the Supreme Court case, diversity at Macalester will remain an important subject of discussion.
“The admissions profession is paying close attention to the Fisher vs. Texas case, said Allen. “At this point the extent to which a ruling would impact the admissions policies at private liberal arts colleges like Macalester is uncertain.”