BY APRIL WARD
Dinesh D’Souza, a research fellow for the Hoover Institute and often controversial conservative speaker, addressed affirmative’s action goal of creating diversity in higher education during a speech Thursday sponsored by the Federalist Society.
D’Souza’s speech, entitled “Does Affirmative Action Undermine Diversity?” proposed that affirmative action was established to create diversity by assuring that applicants would not be subject to racial discrimination. Since racism by admissions council members is no longer a viable threat, said D’Souza, affirmative action is no longer needed to combat racism as such.
While diversity is desirable, D’Souza argued that affirmative action undermines the true goals of diversity by merely adjusting the numbers “at the end” rather than addressing the underlying issue of merit as the “greatest obstacle to the enrollment of minorities.”
According to D’Souza, whites and Asians tend to have the best standardized test scores followed by Hispanics and then African Americans. Even when low-income whites and Asians are compared with African Americans in affluent or upper-middle class families, the results do not change. While some groups have attributed this to racism inherent in the tests, D’Souza said that disparities on purely objective subjects like math point to another cause.
“There are very observable behavioral differences between the different groups,” he said. “Asians study a lot harder and spend twice the amount of time doing homework as white and Hispanic students. Inputs relate to outputs. Study relates to grades. In a multicultural society, we can look at what strategies work better and pick those.”
D’Souza placed the issue in historical context by discussing the early 19th century policy debates between W.E.B. DuBois and Booker T. Washington for ending the oppression of African Americans. DuBois, who went on to found the NAACP, attributed the problem to racism and proposed agitation of the government and society to correct the problem. D’Souza said DuBois’s strategy worked effectively during the Civil Rights struggles of the 1960’s to combat racism.
According to D’Souza, Washington said that both cultural issues and racism accounted for the problem. While racism must be fought, Washington advocated for minority groups to improve their skills in multiple areas as well.
While many have not departed from DuBois’s policy of agitation following the 1960’s, said D’Souza, Washington’s strategy has met with success among immigrant groups that embraced it. According to D’Souza, the testing disparities do not hold true for non-white immigrants from countries like Haiti and Nigeria who “conform to the demands of success in competitive society.”
D’Souza also said that alternatives to affirmative action have proved effective in creating racially diverse student bodies. When affirmative action was embraced by UCLA and UC Berkeley, said D’Souza, minority enrollments were high, but disparities in admissions test scores were prevalent. Once affirmative action was removed, other measures were needed to ensure a diverse student body.
“The universities began sending tutors into the inner cities to tutor minority students and to help them raise their test scores,” D’Souza said. “If affirmative action had been in place, that never would have happened.”
D’Souza’s speech was not well received by some in the audience.
“I believe that there are many compelling arguments against the current practice of affirmative action,” said 2L Nicole Washington. “Unfortunately, D’Souza was unable to articulate any of these intellectual perspectives and instead dedicated an hour of his and his audience’s time to an insensitive attempt to substantiate and legitimize falsehoods and hateful stereotypes. He said that racism does not exist to any meaningful extent in America and that there is absolutely no institutional racism.
“He recounted negative stereotypes of blacks, including that they are defiant, and said that blacks just need to study more and change their culture in order to succeed,” said Washington. “He said that cab drivers are ‘sociologists without credentials’ and that the reason they don’t pick up blacks is because they know that blacks commit more crimes than other races and so they rationally fear for their safety.”
After the speech, D’Souza met in a private group with several students, and discussed his views with his critics. “He constantly changed his arguments in order to prove his points,” said Washington, “and he was extremely patronizing and condescending when lecturing and responding to questions, e.g., saying that to his knowledge the KKK does not write the SAT and that there have been no self-identifying bigots in the Harvard admissions office.”
“I was left with the impression that while D’Souza is neither ignorant nor evil, he recklessly distorts information and promotes offensive ideas to garner attention for himself, his movement, and his books.”
D’Souza concluded his speech by appealing to individuals to decide their lives for themselves. “Martin Luther King Jr. said that ultimately every man must write with his own hand the charter of his emancipation proclamation,” said D’Souza. We have the right to be treated equally under the law. What kind of life we make for ourselves ultimately is up to us.”
Andrea Saenz contributed to the reporting of this article.