Thursday, August 10, 2006

Affirmative Action?

As I'm in the throes of applying to medical school, the occasional debate over Affirmative Action is inevitable. Obviously, it's a touchy subject for many, and as I'm your standard WASP, perhaps the perspective from which I approach the subject would be worn and old. However, I'll be the first to recognize the need to compensate somehow in the admissions process for hardships faced. My complaint with Affirmative Action is that it does not adequately do this.

What we have in Affirmative Action is a program that seeks to provide benefits or perks in admissions to "Under-Represented Minorities," or URMs. The rationale behind this is the contention that URMs will be more likely to provide medical care to underserved populations after completing their medical training. Indeed, the end sought is a desirable and necessary one: medical care is maldistributed in the United States, producing large populations that receive inadequate care. The fallacy in Affirmative Action is the assumption that all URMs come from underserved populations, but this simply isn't so. Affirmative Action, as it stands, would disproportionately assist URMs who come from privileged backgrounds, as they would be far more likely to have received a good education, gone to a good college, and be a competitive applicant for admissions--in short, it assists those who need no assistance and bear no significant disadvantage via their background. Those URMs who come from disadvantaged backgrounds remain left behind and unassisted, and the URMs who get accepted, being from a privileged background, will be less inclined to tend to an underserved population later, as they have no underserved roots.

Not to mention that much of America's underserved population is among our poor rural communities, which are largely white.

So, given the desirable and necessary aim of producing physicians who will be more inclined to provide care to underserved populations, how are we to accomplish this? For starters, if a government policy is to mandate admissions benefits to a particular group, that group should be based in socioeconomic status, not race or ethnicity. Indeed, such a policy would probably benefit more disadvantaged minorities than the current system. In addition, it would be inclusive to poor rural whites or other disadvantaged individuals who would be more prone to caring for an underserved population similar to that from whence they came.

Finally, such a system--one based on socioeconomic status rather than race--would eliminate the discrimination, or belittling, that many feel as a result of the current Affirmative Action policy. Some minority students feel sneered by their peers, as if they were given their position rather than earning it through their own hard work and success. If a policy were based in socioeconomic status, rest assured, students would not discriminate against their classmates for presumptuous reasons such as this. For starters, as individuals of every race and ethnicity could potentially benefit from the policy (since individuals of every race and ethnicity could be socioeconomically disadvantaged), there would not be a physical characteristic attached with benefiting from the policy. Additionally, people who do benefit from the program would by definition have been disadvantaged growing up, and this prerequisite should eliminate criticism of benefits or advantages in admissions.


Currently listening to: "Just a Thought" by Gnarls Barkley
Previous activity: Seeing Talledega Nights
Next thing on the agenda: Figuring out plans for the weekend


Pants said...

I have given this topic tremendous energy and attention, particularly of late. I think that your idea is a good one... but ideally I'd like to see these medical schools/grad schools/colleges in general do more to reach the disadvantaged earlier.

I think the root of the problem is that schools everywhere are sucking more and more.

I think that may be a little too utopian to ever see reality. Your idea is much more feasible.

Those are my two cents in ultra-brief.

Luke said...

There's no denying that Affirmative Action is a retroactive compensation, and you're right, that's a problem in itself. Ideally, rather than compensating for disadvantage, one would simply work to eliminate disadvantage. This would require bringing all those inner city and rural schools up to par with the richer suburban schools, and of course this would cost a lot, but it is the long-term goal to shoot for.