Debaters show ends of affirmative action

Miki Johnson

An issue that recently has been on the minds of the U.S. Supreme Court and public was on the lips of administrators, faculty and students Monday night at this quarter’s “Great Debate.”

Associate Provost for University Enrollment Rebecca Dixon, law Prof. Stephen Presser and four members of the Northwestern Debate Society presented arguments supporting or condemning NU’s policy to consider race in its admission process to more than 75 people in Norris University Center’s McCormick Auditorium.

The team in favor of ignoring race in admissions decisions, captained by Presser, suggested that a class-based system would achieve the same racial diversity as the current system without the negative side effect of stigmatization.

“Minorities are taught to assume the reason they are here is because of affirmative action,” argued debate team member James Lux, a Weinberg senior. This unfair assumption causes minority students to insulate themselves within racially homogenous campus groups and follows them into their lives after college, Lux said.

Dixon, who anchored the other team and oversees NU’s admissions policies, pointed out that self-segregation occurs at many universities. She reiterated that “race is but one factor” for NU admission officers, who already consider other characteristics, such as the quality of an applicant’s high school, that improve economic diversity even without a class-based selection process.

But Presser’s team argued race-based admissions “make an unbalanced field seem level” rather than actually “leveling the playing field,” because most NU minority students are wealthy.

The team supporting race-based admissions responded that even educating primarily upper-class minorities still would benefit the rest of their communities. LaTonya Starks, a Communication junior, said minorities graduating from highly selective universities go on to form the “backbone of the emerging black and Hispanic middle class.”

“A diverse college experience can make whites more likely to hire minorities,” said Geoffrey Garen, a Weinberg senior and member of Dixon’s team.

Presser, who has written against using affirmative action in academics, also argued against taking race into consideration because it assumes that race necessarily determines culture.

“Diversity of skin color is not equal to diversity of ideas,” Presser said. “And to treat people as colors or trophies is dehumanizing.”

The Great Debate Series holds debates to showcase NU’s champion debate team and to increase campus awareness of national issues.