April 6, 2007

Does race define the U of C student?

The Admissions office should not automatically pair prospective minority students with dormitory hosts of the same skin color during its overnight programming.

Strategies implemented by the University toward the goal of increasing diversity include a collaborative effort between the Admissions office and campus organizations. Under the guidance of the Admissions office, the Prospective Students Advisory Committee strives to pair black and Latino prospective students with University student hosts of the same race for the April overnights. The black or Latino host is often (though not always) aware that his race is being considered for this purpose. But the default assumption of the Admissions office is that like-minority pairings are preferred by prospective minority students, and as such, a prospective minority student is not necessarily informed that Admissions is catering to his race.

While the presumptive pairing of black and Latino hosts and prospective students by the University may be well intentioned, the implication is that the quality of a prospective black or Latino student’s visit is determined in great part by the skin color of his host.

This assumption prompts the Maroon to ask: What does the University really mean when it uses the word “diversity”? Is the goal of diversity to create a student body that is racially colorblind, or just to meet a socially mandated quota? Further, what is the benefit of diversity if different groups do not mix and interact with each other?

A diverse student body enhances collective exposure to ideas and cultures different from one’s own—different from what is familiar. It is disconcerting that the Admissions office suggests that the quality of a minority student’s life is dominated by the racial makeup of his community.

Like it or not, many groups on campus are self-segregating, but the Admissions office should not perpetuate this phenomenon by imposing it on prospective students before they even join the University community. Such racially tailored overnights fail to underscore the flourishing intellectual atmosphere and haven for ideas that truly define this University. First-year students are not permitted to make roommate requests on the basis of race—why should Admissions utilize a system by which this is possible for prospective student overnights?

It is true that the black and Latino populations are underrepresented on campus, but if the goal is to increase these numbers, Admissions should be able to do so by showcasing the University’s academic prominence. It is simply insulting to the intellect of both currently enrolled students and prospective students to engage in a practice that places the importance of race above those of personal merit and academic aptitude. This emphasis on race undermines the academic and extracurricular interests of qualified minority applicants. These students are perfectly capable of forming their decision to attend the U of C based on the same criteria considered by any other prospective student, including those who claim minority status based on sexual orientation, religion, or other racial identifications.

Certainly, race can be a personal and important aspect of a student’s identity. However, it is not the place of the Admissions office to dictate to students how their race should impact their University experience. On April overnights and at other recruitment events, there are a variety of different ways—several of which the University does in fact already employ—to expose prospective students to racial and ethnic diversity at the U of C. But life at the University of Chicago is not about whether you are black or white. We are all Maroon here.