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JUNE 2003
Volume 95, Issue 5

GRAPHIC:  Also in every issueLetters

It might sound ridiculous, but “potty parity” is an issue…

Color-blind policy
Regarding President Randel’s column “Greater Than Zero Is What Justice Demands” (February/03), I urge Chicago to judge students as whole people. The demographic categories that 17-year-old applicants fit into are significant and help you learn about them, but not as much as their essay, interview, and the rest of their application.

When I came to Hyde Park in 1984, I noticed that all my classmates cared a lot about at least one thing. Three examples: problem sets, organizing Marxist youth, Jean-Luc Ponty. Those interests could not have been predicted by their ancestry.

Matthew Nickerson, AB’88


While I completely disagree with them, I thank you for printing the letters critical of President Randel’s column on the University’s affirmative-action program. This is the reason I enjoyed immensely my time at the U of C and have continued to respect the University. You get to hear both sides even if one side makes no sense or is even insulting, as Lew Flagg’s letter was.

Some—I fervently hope most—of us seek a good and decent society, where race truly doesn’t matter. Then we can ignore racial classifications because they aren’t needed—and I pray for that day. But this day will not come unless we honestly face the existing facts and do what is needed to really erase the effects of racial discrimination in those places where it is still doing great harm, that is, take affirmative action. You have to be deaf, dumb, and blind not to know that racial discrimination, past and present, is still doing great harm to African Americans.

Bert Metzger, JD’61

I have never written to the Magazine before, but I wanted to jump into the fray about racial preferences at major universities like the University of Chicago (“Letters,” April/03).

My perspective on this question has changed somewhat as a result of my collaboration on a project for which the author toured the country interviewing surviving children of American slaves. One of the things she discovered, confirmed by the historical record, is that American slaves made great strides in equality after the Civil War until American whites instituted Jim Crow policies to hold them back.

The systematic racial discrimination that took root with Jim Crow still plagues our society, as black experience with “DWB” [“Driving While Black”] illustrates. Slavery may have been 150 years ago, but systematic discrimination was acceptable until very recently—at most a generation ago. Even more insidiously, studies done with schoolchildren and teachers, as well as with prospective employers viewing résumés from “white- and “black”-named job applicants, demonstrate that influential individuals in our society are far from “color-blind.” A color-blind society may be our goal, but it is not our present reality. We have to set present policy to face that fact.

If the experience of Southern black Americans after the Civil War can teach us anything, it surely teaches us that motivated students can qualify and succeed at an institution like the U of C even if their SAT scores didn’t necessarily fall between 1500 and 1600. As Dr. Randel says, “elite institutions…admit only a small fraction of the applicants who would be qualified to do the work and earn the degree.” Don’t get me wrong; I’m not advocating quotas. It’s amply obvious, however, that institutionalized and individual racial discrimination still exists in this country—and my guess is, most black Americans would say it’s still pretty widespread.

Until that’s no longer the case, I believe it’s the responsibility of those on the other side of the fence to try to redress this injustice. Since it exists on both an individual and institutional level, we must use both an individual examination of conscience and institutionalized measures to try to level the playing field. Some might argue that the great universities aren’t the place to take these institutional measures. But I don’t see why every educational level can’t be involved in making things right in this country.

Deborah Satinsky Cafiero, AB’89
Norwalk, Connecticut

The University of Chicago Magazine welcomes letters on its contents or on topics related to the University. Letters for publication must be signed and may be edited for space and clarity. To ensure a range of views and voices, we implore readers to keep correspondence to 300 words or less. Write:

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