In her new book, Place, Not Race, Professor Sheryll Cashin argues that the declining influence of race-based affirmative action—the percentage of four-year public colleges that consider racial or ethnic status in admissions has fallen from 60 percent to 35 percent and only 45 percent of private colleges still explicitly consider race—is not entirely bad news since affirmative action as currently practiced does little to help disadvantaged people.
The truly disadvantaged—black and brown children trapped in high-poverty environs—are not getting the quality schooling they need in part because backlash and wedge politics undermine any possibility for common-sense public policies. Using place instead of race in diversity programming, she writes, will better amend the structural disadvantages endured by many children of color, while enhancing the possibility that we might one day move past the racial resentment that affirmative action engenders.
Sixty years since the historic decision, we’re undoubtedly far from meeting the promise of Brown v. Board of Education, but Cashin offers a new framework for true inclusion for the millions of children who live separate and unequal lives. Her proposals include making standardized tests optional, replacing merit-based financial aid with need-based financial aid, and recruiting high-achieving students from overlooked places, among other steps that encourage cross-racial alliances and social mobility.