sighing, preferentially.

Every college paper is "award-winning," apparently, but some days the Daily Illini's gap between credentials and performance makes me think it's a special case. A special case that desperately needs me to drive down there and kidnap their editorial staff before they further devalue my degree.

Jordan Harp, a senior in LAS (he's insulting not just my alma mater, but my division with his choady presence) presents today for your edification a piece titled Affirmative action for dudes. It discusses an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education, a publication with which you can be sure Mr. Harp has never before familiarized himself (and whose name he gets wrong), on sex-based affirmative action. As sex imbalances at many colleges become increasingly pronounced, the report suggests, some are extending preferential treatment to male applicants in an effort to keep their own campuses more representative. Young Jordan's response is predictable.
The irony here would be painful were it not so amusing. Affirmative action has enjoyed near universal support among feminist groups, in part because of their belief that preferences help women in getting admitted to college. Four years ago Michigan feminist organizations were unanimous in their opposition to the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative, which would have eliminated admissions preferences on the basis of race or sex. But now the policy that they so vehemently support is hurting those that they claim to represent.

Ah, yes, from the misty heights of Daily Illini employment and near-completion of a liberal arts degree, Jordan Harp quaffs the delicious irony of women once again being excluded from higher education in spite of merit. It tastes like ambrosia, with a hint of pennies.

Far above the mere mortals whose days of submitting to college applications still lie before them, Jordan's experiences and opinions are, of course, a bit irrelevant. He's also hardly saying anything new about affirmative action:
It gets tiring sometimes to constantly argue against ridiculous progressive policies, so it is always good when they argue against themselves. The idea of affirmative action and making admissions decisions based upon how you look has proven to be an absurd idea, one that must end.

It's not Jordan's fault, of course: the complexities of including more than one variable in decision-making often aren't covered until graduate school. I'm just finding out about that myself.

But it is significant because it illustrates a problem that many, well, immature people come up against when they try to think about problems like racism or sexism. If racism amounts to preferring or punishing people based on their race, and that's bad, then it can be a personal failing (some people are racists, and they are bad people). It can also go both ways: "discriminating" against white people must be just as wrong as it would be in favor of them.

What this ignores, of course, is that discrimination against women (for example) is embedded in a history of systemic oppression that has no real analogue for men. Within this system, a person's intentions can be somewhat beside the point: good men have sexist beliefs, or take advantage of their privilege, all the time, with or without meaning to. Women who have been given all the legal advantages enjoyed by men still lack the personal experience or the tradition of female freedom and achievement. Preferences for historically oppressed groups redress wrongs, sure (and often even this is too much for people who'd rather not confront their guilt at benefiting from an unfair system, or admit they don't feel guilt that perhaps they ought to). But they also provide the kind of support schools offer anyone who is the first in their family to attend college: they recognize that some people's backgrounds, for whatever reason, do not provide them the same support that others have, but that those people possess merit and everybody benefits when they succeed.

I'm editing to add that Jordan's opus appears to have been taken down. is back up in all its glory! You can assure yourself that the relevant (?) sections have been reproduced, indirectly, by clicking around the Daily Illini's website and judging the intellectual firepower milling around there for yourself.


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