Farquharson: Maintaining a Diverse Dartmouth

Dartmouth must bolster race-conscious recruitment programs to ensure campus diversity.

by Michael Farquharson | 10/6/22 4:00am

On Oct. 31, the Supreme Court is slated to hear two groundbreaking cases concerning the practice of race-conscious admissions at Harvard University and the University of North Carolina. Students For Fair Admissions, the organization challenging both universities, claims that affirmative action policies are discriminatory against Asian American students and are inconsistent with federal law. In its 1978 University of California v. Bakke decision, SCOTUS ruled in favor of affirmative action as one factor in admissions decision making. This set the precedent that race-conscious admissions aimed at improving diversity does not infringe upon equal protection under the law insofar as no racial quotas are used. However, today’s SCOTUS, with a 6-3 conservative majority, is arguably the most conservative in over a century and could endeavor to overturn liberal policies and past decisions, doubtlessly affecting affirmative action.

If SCOTUS does indeed overturn Bakke and prohibit affirmative action, Dartmouth’s mission to give outstanding students a chance to join its intellectual community — regardless of race — would be in peril. These cases come at a time of great progress for diversity at the College: We have recently seen the shift to need-blind admissions for international applicants and new hiring initiatives to increase the racial diversity of the faculty. Thus, if race-conscious admissions were declared unconstitutional, diversity at Dartmouth would face a severe setback. The College must strive to uphold race-conscious admissions due to its history of discrimination and racism towards historically marginalized individuals.

It is no secret that Dartmouth was founded on land stolen from the Abenaki people with the goal of proselytizing to Indigenous people. And yet, until the 1970s, the College graduated few Indigenous students and made little to no effort to recruit them. In 1921, Dartmouth implemented an admissions process of “proportionate selection” which was largely aimed at limiting the number of Jewish applicants admitted; College President Ernest Hopkins stated that Jewish applicants faced discrimination in admissions so that Dartmouth would not be “overrun racially.” Similarly, in 1922, Dartmouth became the first institution to practice legacy admissions, the goal of which was to keep out non-Protestant minorities such as Jews and immigrants from Eastern Europe.

The unfortunate history of race throughout Dartmouth’s first two centuries should impel the College to commit itself to fostering an inclusive and diverse community on campus. On the whole, over the past few decades, Dartmouth has made outstanding progress. President John Kemeny established the Native American Program and promoted recruitment of Indigenous students in the 1970s, when Dartmouth also committed itself to admitting more Black students, including Black youth from under-resourced urban communities.

But the looming threat of conservative rulings in favor of SFFA would reverse over 50 years of success in diversifying Dartmouth’s community through race-conscious admissions. The reverberations of affirmative action bans on the student body diversity at other universities have been detrimental. At UCLA, for example, the percentage of Black and Hispanic freshmen decreased by approximately half between 1995 and 1998 — from 7.13% to 3.43% for Black students and from 22% to 11% for Hispanic ones — following California’s prohibition on affirmative action in 1996. At the University of Michigan, Black students made up 4% of undergraduates in 2021 as opposed to 7% in 2006, when affirmative action was banned in that state. Indigenous enrollment at Michigan fell from 1% to just 0.11%. Judging by the state of diversity at these schools, it is almost certain that Dartmouth and its peers would face a similar situation if affirmative action is outlawed.

While the SFFA may illustrate its mission as ensuring the complete fairness of college admissions through the elimination of all racial preferences — outwardly a benign cause — what it fails to realize is that systemic racism worsens opportunities for marginalized communities. Black, Hispanic and Indigenous students are much less likely than their white counterparts to have access to smaller schools with smaller class sizes, more expansive and advanced curricula or highly-qualified teachers, all of which are vital to success in the classroom. White students are also unfairly advantaged in standardized testing. Minority students generally have lower incomes, face higher crime rates, attend more under-resourced schools and may not speak English as their first language, resulting in lower average scores. Conversely, white students more often have college-educated parents and can better afford test-preparation resources, resulting in higher average scores. From this dichotomy it is clear that holding all students, regardless of race, to the same academic standards is highly unfair. To say that affirmative action is itself discriminatory is to refuse to consider unavoidable obstacles in certain students’ educational paths. 

We must also recognize the importance of diversity to the College’s robust intellectual community. A hallmark of a Dartmouth education should be the chance for students of different racial and socioeconomic backgrounds to exchange ideas and insights with each other. A racially and economically homogeneous community would eliminate such diverse perspectives. 

The College must stand firm in its support for race-conscious admissions. As an increasingly probable SCOTUS ruling against affirmative action draws near, it must augment its outreach to underrepresented minorities and communities to maintain campus diversity and prevent the situation already seen at institutions like the UCs. If Dartmouth must relinquish affirmative action, potentially discouraging minority students from applying, expanding outreach to these communities will be critical to incentivizing a steady number of minority students to apply to Dartmouth and other highly selective schools. This might include fly-in programs specifically for minority communities and more admissions visits to predominantly minority schools.  Additionally, an expansion of Dartmouth’s financial aid program could draw more students from marginalized communities to apply. The wealth gap affecting marginalized groups makes an expansive financial aid program important for their confidence in attending and thriving at Dartmouth. The College may consider what the University of Michigan has done — expanding its recruitment efforts in predominantly Black city of Detroit as well as its financial aid program. While these programs did not prevent a decline in overall campus diversity, they certainly mitigate the effects of the affirmative action ban. For the sake of racial diversity and equality of opportunity, and for the sake of fixing the wrongs of Dartmouth’s past, affirmative action and other diversity initiatives must be here to stay. 

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