Assistant Dean of Admissions Deborah Basket spoke about affirmative action in the college admission process and general misconceptions about the policy in a discussion sponsored by Conversations on Reconciliation and Equality, or CORE, in the Commons Dining Hall Monday evening.
CORE is a joint initiative of the Student Assembly, NAACP, Mosaic House and the Multicultural Ambassador Council.
Basket began by talking about the racist and unjust environment she grew up in that shaped her belief that affirmative action is absolutely necessary.
“I was born in the South, am a child of the Civil Rights era, and experienced first hand Jim Crow,” Basket said. “In 1954, Brown vs. Board of Education ruled that segregation in schools was inherently wrong — yet schools in the South weren’t desegregated until 1968. When they were, it wasn’t pretty.”
Basket recalled affirmative action’s birth under President Lyndon Johnson, and spoke of the change in its perception.
“Affirmative action went from this wonderful thing to pushing back. It’s the same as I saw with school desegregation. Change makes people uncomfortable,” she said. “What I’m trying to do — and other colleges as well — is to bring to admission process the ability to sit and read each application individually.”
Justin Reid ’09, president of the College’s NAACP chapter, said that after working in the admissions office he has witnessed the extensive process deans go through to ensure fair selection.
“Our deans are exceptional,” Reid said. “They really take the time to read applications individually.”
Basket explained the factors admissions officers take into account when selecting students.
“We look at the students’ background,” Basket said. “It allows us to take into consideration all aspects of diversity, including socioeconomic, gender, race, disabilities, sexual orientation, geographic location and ethnicity.”
Nancy Velasquez ’12 said many students hold the common belief that only race is included in affirmative action.
“Affirmative action isn’t just about race, but actually about a lot of factors,” she said.
Basket refuted the arguments against affirmative action by enumerating the injustices that she observes in society.
“It bothers me that for every dollar a man makes, a woman makes about 80 cents,” Basket said. “It bothers me that someone in a wheelchair cannot get a job because employers think customers will be bothered. It bothers me that an interracial couple has a difficult time buying a house. So affirmative action is very necessary.”
Basket said that K-12 affirmative action policies would be ideal, but difficult.
“We as individuals tend to look for the easy way out, rather than the right way,” she said. “[Affirmative action] should be applied not just in grades K-12, but from the day a child is born.”
Irene Mathieu ’09, president of the Multicultural Ambassador Council, said she was pleased by the number of students who attended the discussion.
“It suggests we did well with advertising, but also that we picked a topic people are interested in, especially with the presidential election.” Mathieu said.
Basket said even though the College has made great strides — 25 percent of students are of color — colleges and workplaces have a long way to go.