Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Affirmative action for new minority group: white males

According to a recent Newsweek article, being a white male might put a college applicant at an advantage, but not the one that you might think. Apparently, white males are now considered a minority group among British universities. Statistics show that white men are underrepresented at approximately 10% of all higher education institutions in the United Kingdom—especially in fields of business and science where ethnic minority groups make up 70% of students. In response, the University of Essex and the University of Aston have announced plans to recruit more white men, putting them on a par with Black students and women engineers.

Aston and Essex's initiatives controversially follow a September warning by the Office for Students (which regulates British universities) that:
Institutions could be punished unless they give a higher proportion of top degrees to Black students,
The Telegraph reports. Despite the warning, Aston and Essex still found white male representation to be lacking in their institutions. The colleges relied on research published by the Higher Education Policy Institute which also indicated that more needs to be done to encourage young white males to apply for college, according to the Atlanta Black Star.

Notably, these statistics do not account for the class of the underrepresented men, only their race. However, Oxford University does intend to consider class status in a new initiative. The world renowned institution has introduced a plan to recruit specifically white men of working-class backgrounds. This too is subject to controversy since Oxford was accused of "Social Apartheid" last year after data showed 10 of its 32 colleges failed to admit a single qualified Black student with Advanced Levels or A–levels (a secondary school qualification).

Recent research indicates that some university staff have mixed reactions to recruitment schemes aimed specifically at white males because they fear the programs may lead to accusations of racism on the part of admissions offices, The Telegraph reports.

For example, a 2016 study led by education and youth development group LKMco (King's College of London) stated that, in response to initiatives addressing the underrepresentation of white working-class boys in higher education,
We found that people were quite uncomfortable with the idea of running a targeted activity with this group, in a way that we've not encountered, for example, targeting young black African men.
The low number of white males applying for colleges is an issue not unique to the United Kingdom. In America, too, males are enrolling in college at alarmingly low rates, according to The Atlantic. By 2026, the U.S. Department of Education estimates that 57% of college students will be women. The feminist in me wants to see this as a good thing—more women and less white men becoming educated might shift the current power dynamic over time. But, I think this statistic (and the United Kingdom studies) identifies a larger issue: working-class white males' aversion to education. This aversion must be addressed since better educated voters should result in better policy and (hopefully) more rationality.

American universities could address the decrease in WWC enrollment in a similar fashion as Aston, Essex, or Oxford. However, such an initiative would likely be met with skepticism in the United States—especially if the plan focused solely on recruiting white men without attention to class. Americans (myself included) probably question whether the dwindling numbers of white males in business and science is even really an issue. Wasn't attracting more women and people of color—and therefore fewer white men—the goal of affirmative action programs in the first place? Even so, people are quick to forget that working-class whites from rural communities face crippling disadvantages in pursuing education. Yet, the WWC is left out of racially-based affirmative action programs which purport to level the college application playing field. Are class-disadvantaged white applicants entitled to affirmative action? Or will they prosper because "if you're white, you'll be alright"?

White male privilege appears to be rampant in the United States where white males, quite literally, control the government and most major corporations. So, the belief that white men will be successful simply based on the color of their skin is somewhat understandable. But, as this course has illustrated, working-class white men are underrepresented in all facets of prestigious modern life—especially in elite education. I posit that it is time to abandon the traditional notion of white privilege when applied to the WWC. In the context of higher education, universities must consider an applicant's socio-economic background rather than racial-minority status alone if the educational system is to be improved and diversified. That, or, expand affirmative action programs to assist a new minority group: the white working class. 

1 comment:

  1. This is a very interesting topic that I have not encountered before your article. I think there would be a massive backlash if any educational institution put into policy a procedure to favor admission to "white men." I do think that the socio-economic factor should play a large role. I think we have seen significant progress in that area with grant programs, and scholarship opportunities often offered to those from low-income or first-generation families.
    I think it is a very interesting thought you posit here that geography may be making more of an impact than gender or race. I would argue that where you are born may be more of a significant factor than what your race or gender is in those same geographical areas.