Go back to home page of Unsolicited Advice from Tiffany B. Brown

Legacy and donor admissions aren't merit-based either

A woman wearing a hunter green mortarboard and matching robe leans forward on a wall, and looks into the distance. Her back faces the camera, but you can see her face in profile. She's standing against a bright gray sky.

Photo by Andre Hunter on Unsplash

I'll save you a full-fledged rant about last week's affirmative action decision from the United States Supreme Court. But I will point out that if "merit" is what you're after, we should probably agree about what that means. Admitting the child of a rich donor might reflect the merit of the parents, but as Jared Kusher should have shown us, that doesn't mean the child was talented enough, intelligent enough, or had enough grit to justify admission.

Coco Fusco's Affirmative Action and the Art World’s White Elites in Hyperallergic extends my paragraph above into an essay that's about college admissions, but also about gatekeeprs in the art world.

The prevailing assumption is that more deserving White people lose out to less deserving members of minority groups. There is no accompanying acknowledgment of the fact that less than academically stellar children of White donors and alumni are accepted to elite institutions over other applicants with records of greater academic accomplishment. That assumption also ignores the value of the resilience, grit, and resourcefulness of minority students who make it into elite colleges despite having fewer social connections and undervalued cultural capital. The resentment toward affirmative action harbored by many people — mostly White — is not always articulated openly because it is politically delicate for liberals to openly express their elitism and racist bias.

Of course, the point here is not to advance merit-based admissions. It's to preserve their current group advantage.