The news has been filled with the college admissions scandal that shined light on the glaring inequities and corruption of American higher education. Children of wealthy elites have benefited from this system of bribery since its inception, and it’s by no means a new phenomenon. The strings attached to generous donations are not always visible, but that does not mean they are nonexistent. That the system not only benefits the wealthy but fosters continued corruption should be no surprise.
Yet the revelations of beloved Lori Loughlin, who played Aunt Becky on “Full House,” and others bribing their kids’ way into elite colleges has raised several important questions about representation and diversity at American colleges and universities -- elite or not. They’ve shown that U.S. higher education’s lack of diversity is symptomatic of a larger system of white supremacy.
Twitter exploded with statistics showing the lack of diversity across college campuses to remind us that college education is not rigged solely for the very well-to-do, and it’s not only cheating and corruption denying well-deserving students a place at the table. As a white man, even from a working-class background, I am a beneficiary of this system.
College is just one small part of the rigged political and economic landscape that disproportionately benefits white Americans. We have grown used to the “revelations” of systemic racism, whether in statistics about mass incarceration, police shootings or in the makeup of our schools.
The University of Georgia’s undergraduate population in fall 2018, for instance, was about 70 percent white, followed by 10.5 percent Asian and less than 8 percent African American and 6 percent Hispanic. Contrast this with Georgia’s 2010 census breakdown of 60 percent white, 30.5 percent African-American, 9 percent Hispanic, and 3 percent Asian.
These discrepancies are the effect of structural inequalities endemic in the U.S. and do not inherently reflect explicitly racist policies made by the university, which attempts to foster greater diversity through several programs. Among these are Georgia DAZE, which encourages the enrollment of underrepresented students, and the LEAD Diversity Fellows Program.
What makes these inequalities difficult to fight, though, is their purposeful “invisibility” due to “colorblind” policies. But the structures of white supremacy are not always so hidden.
Indeed, one glaring example is the prevalence of Confederate monuments, which have likewise filled the recent news cycle. But what does this have to do with the college admissions scandal and issues of unequal representation in American colleges?
For that, we must turn to Athens’ own Confederate monument on Broad street, a monument that has already received much attention in these pages. The monument to Athens’ Confederate dead sits right in front of the famous and treasured Arch, the gateway to the University of Georgia. Historians at UGA have linked the monument to the Ku Klux Klan, yet students must pass this monument to enter campus between the pillars supposedly representing wisdom, moderation and, most importantly, justice.
Again, I write this from a privileged position, but many people have expressed their feelings of isolation when they look around a classroom to see very few, if any, people that look like them. We should take this seriously, and we should strive to change societal structures of racism that facilitate such a glaring lack of diversity. This is no easy task, and there is not one society-changing panacea, but there are some small steps we can take here at UGA.
First, we need a more honest accounting of the history of slavery at the University, an issue on which we are seriously behind other schools. We, as students, should lead this initiative. Second, UGA (students and administration) should take a more active role in removing the Broad Street monument and fight state policies that prevent these monuments’ removal. We cannot sincerely claim to support diversity when we allow a symbol antithetical to diversity to stand across from UGA’s most recognizable symbol and gateway. I think UGA has a lot to be proud of. But we have a long, long way left to go.
As the college admissions scandal and the questions it raised about diversity have shown, UGA and other schools represent and uphold a larger system that explicitly and implicitly says who belongs and who does not. We should seriously consider, then, the message that a Klan-funded symbol of white supremacist injustice sends to our student body, many of whom may already feel out of place or unwelcome. This is not the sole responsibility of UGA or even of Athens; it is everyone’s responsibility (especially white Americans) to own up to our extremely troubled past of racial injustice. Only then can we actually, truly address present injustices.