Since contemporary university policies use colorblind language, it becomes inconceivable to believe that they produce racial outcomes. People are so fixated on Barrack Obama and Oprah Winfrey, as beacons of racial progress, that crying racism can now be diagnosed as a symptom of lunacy. D’Souza (1995) in the famous work The End of Racism asserts that Colin Powell, one of the most powerful African American military leaders in the world, would not have been able to serve a hamburger in the South during the 1960s. Indeed, exceptionalism has historically been used as a cannon to mask racism. According to Alexander (2012), the shocking images of police unleashing police dogs on children in the South, people being water cannoned, the yelling of racial epithets, and “whites only signs” shapes our understanding of what racism is. Since our perception of racism is shaped by the most extreme expressions (Alexander, 2012), it becomes difficult, if not impossible, to imagine how invisibly embedded colorblind policies in a university system can promote racial disparities.
There is something called FTES in California state universities that harms students of color. FTES is complex and few know how to interpret it. The bottom line is that a university department, contingent on the state budget, is forced to admit less or more students. The current trend is to limit the number of students based on FTES. At first glance FTES appears like a colorblind policy because middle class non-minority students are also impacted. But semester after semester students of color express their frustration because their classes were dropped due to unforeseen financial circumstances. When these students solve the problem and attempt to reenroll in classes, it does not matter if they were originally enrolled—those students are turned away because the respective department has already exceeded the FTES. What is a student to do now that they have paid their fees, and have overcome these bureaucratic hurdles, yet are prevented from enrolling in classes? Although FTES baselines appear to affect every student equally, they do not. These policies overwhelmingly cripple students of color, since they are the ones most likely to experience economic hardship and other difficulties associated with enrollment at the beginning of the semester.
Although merit based policies in contemporary universities are cloaked in race neutral language, they foster racial disparities. During the 1990s UC Berkley recognized that admitting students who had historically been subjected to substandard schooling, based only on G.P.A and SAT scores, would only amplify the racial disparities that characterize major universities. The rigid and unthinking application of elevated G.P.A. and SAT requirements in state universities, institutions traditionally designed to educate underprivileged and working class populations, limit access to university programs and decimate their mission statements. The mission statement of the CSU system reads, “Seeks out individuals with collegiate promise who face cultural, geographical, physical, educational, financial, or personal barriers to assist them in advancing to the highest educational levels they can reach.” Simply substitute the words “seeks out” with “turns away” and “assists” with “prevents” for a more accurate mission statement of colorblind university systems. Sullivan (1989) found in New York City that 70% of poor black and Latino residents are segregated to high poverty areas; alternatively, 70% of poor whites lived in non-poverty neighborhoods—communities with access to good schools, jobs, banks, grocery stores, and other resources. According to the 2010 Census, 22% of children in the U.S. live in poverty, and those are disproportionately Latino and African American. It is also well established that childhood poverty is associated with low-test scores (Brooks Gunn and Duncan, 1997; Duncan and Magnuson, 2005). If zoning laws and residential segregation contribute to substandard schooling and poverty, is it reasonable to expect underprivileged Latino and African American students to enter the university with high SAT and G.P.A scores?
Major universities, as well as public schools, have become breeding grounds for zero tolerance policies. In Chicago, where I once volunteered working with youth, young people were getting arrested for participating in food fights. The administrators reasoned that objects such as an apple could be launched with such force as to inflict harm. In part, the administrators were operating under the assumption that juveniles’ arms possess the thrust and accuracy of major league baseball pitchers. In some university departments, if you fail a class two or three times a student can forevermore be disqualified from the major. It is eerie how university policies bear striking resemblance to legal system’s three strike policies. Since these zero-tolerance university policies are not explicitly racialized, they conceal those deeply affected by them. The National Center for Education Statistics (2012) informs us who is most vulnerable in American educational systems—as evidenced by high drop out rates—that is Latinos and African Americans.
Less than sixty years after the historic Brown v. the Board of Education 1954, the schoolhouse doors are beginning to close. For example, the City University of New York is a college that has historically served Black and Latino students. The recession created an unintended consequence. As fees skyrocketed across the nation, middle class students who would have attended private colleges opted to attend universities such as CUNY instead. CUNY administration responded to the demand by hiking SAT and other entrance scores; the effect was a precipitous decline in Black and Latino enrollment (http://voicesofny.org/2012/06/at-cunys-senior-colleges-fewer-black-and-latino-students/). The heightened fees and additional requirements employ fiscal language (i.e., racially neutral language), but they cater to middle class students at the cost of extraditing Blacks and Latinos from colleges that historically offered them opportunities.
The struggle for racial representation, at all stages, in major universities, has long abated. One sees professor Cornell West on television and we become so titillated as to ignore the numbers. Not long ago, people were asking why there are so few minority professors around. Field (2007) places the numbers at 2.9% of scholars nationwide as being African American and 1.9% as being Latino. That means that some university departments have never hired a tenure track Latino or African American professor, let alone tenured one. No one seems the least bit disturbed by these numbers. According to Alexander (2012), the once insidious system of racial hostility has been replaced by racial indifference (defined as a lack of compassion and caring about race and racial groups). Only few recognize or care that the colorblind university policies implemented today may have an effect on the proportion of minority scholars produced tomorrow.
It is easy to overlook how colorblind policies are part of a new educational apartheid. After all, these policies reflect a remarkable mastery in the excision of race from their language. Iris Marilyn Young (2000) introduced something called the “birdcage” metaphor. She states, “if one thinks about racism as one wire in the cage, or one form of disadvantage, it is difficult to understand how and why the bird is trapped. Only a large set of wires arranged in a specific way, and connected to one another, serve to enclose the bird and to ensure that it cannot escape.” Presently, it is the colorblind institutional practices, policies, and beliefs that operate in perfect harmony (like wires in a cage), that limit educational access, intensify racially disproportionate numbers, and help to excommunicate Latinos and African Americans from public universities.Tags: colorblind policy, FTES, Racism