A Devastating Affirmative-Action Failure

Heather Mac Donald, National Review, August 26, 2013

The Los Angeles Times recently published a devastating case study in the malign effects of academic racial preferences. The University of California, Berkeley, followed the diversocrat playbook to the letter in admitting Kashawn Campbell, a South Central Los Angeles high-school senior, in 2012: It disregarded his level of academic preparation, parked him in the black dorm—the “African American Theme Program”—and provided him with a black-studies course.

The results were thoroughly predictable. After his first semester, reports the Times:

[Kashawn] had barely passed an introductory science course. In College Writing 1A, his essays—pockmarked with misplaced words and odd phrases—were so weak that he would have to take the class again.

His writing often didn’t make sense. He struggled to comprehend the readings for [College Writing] and think critically about the text.

“It took awhile for him to understand there was a problem,” [his instructor] said. “He could not believe that he needed more skills. He would revise his papers and each time he would turn his work back in having complicated it. The paper would be full of words he thought were academic, writing the way he thought a college student should write, using big words he didn’t have command of.”

His grade-point average was 1.7, putting him at risk of expulsion if he didn’t raise it by the end of the year. The one bright spot in his academic record? Why, African American Studies 5A, of course! Kashawn had received an A on an essay and a B on a midterm, the best grades of his freshman year:

Kashawn reveled in the class [a survey of black culture and race relations], in a way he hadn’t since high school. He would often be the first one to speak up in discussions, even though his points weren’t always the most sophisticated, said Gabrielle Williams, a doctoral student who helped teach the class.

He still had gaps in his knowledge of history. But, Williams said, “you could see how engaged he was, how much he loved being there.”

Did Kashawn’s good grades in African American Studies 5A mean that he had suddenly learned how to think and to write? Not at all. He was advancing little in his second go-round at expository writing:  “On yet another failing essay, the instructor wrote how surprised she was at his lack of progress, especially, she noted, given the hours they’d spent going over his ‘extremely long, awkward and unclear sentences.’”

His (to him) unforeseen academic struggles took a psychological toll:

He had never felt this kind of failure, nor felt this insecure. . . . Each poor grade [was] another stinging punch bringing him closer to flunking out. None of the adults in his life knew the depth of his pain: not his professors, his counselors, any of the teachers at his old high school.

He tries to rally his spirits with heart-wrenching pathos: “‘I can do this! I can do this!’ he had written [in a diary]. ‘Let the studying begin! . . . It’s time for Kashawn’s Comeback!’”

A counselor in the campus psychologist’s office urged him to scale back his academic ambitions. “Maybe he didn’t have to be the straight-A kid he’d been in high school anymore,” the counselor advised him. This “be content with mediocrity” message is hardly a recipe for future success, but it sums up the attitude that many a struggling affirmative-action “beneficiary” has adopted to get through college.


{snip} It is unlikely, however, that African American Studies 5A discussed the academic-achievement gap in Berkeley’s admissions between black, white, and Asian students. {snip} (Kashawn came to Berkeley through one of the University of California’s many desperate efforts to evade California’s ban on governmental racial preferences: an admissions guarantee for students in the top decile of their high school classes, regardless of their test scores or the caliber of their school.)

Kashawn is on tenterhooks waiting to learn if his second-semester grades will allow him to continue into sophomore year. Which course gave him an A–, to pull his GPA over the top? Hint: It wasn’t College Writing.


Topics: ,

Share This

We welcome comments that add information or perspective, and we encourage polite debate. If you log in with a social media account, your comment should appear immediately. If you prefer to remain anonymous, you may comment as a guest, using a name and an e-mail address of convenience. Your comment will be moderated.