July 5, 2023


Affirmative Action and the Imago Dei (TREY DIMSDALE • JULY 5, 2023, Law & Liberty)

Slavery has rightly been called "America's original sin," and the further violence done to black Americans through Jim Crow segregation is a stain on this nation and in direct contradiction to its stated ideals. Race-based admissions policies were designed to provide an avenue for members of this community to gain access to education, and through education to professions formerly well out of the reach of their forebears.

Statistics purported to demonstrate the effectiveness of these programs, or the lack thereof, have as many interpretations as interpreters, and there is, quite frankly, no clear consensus as to whether these programs work to increase minority access to education. There are, as mentioned above, anecdotes that point to the success of individuals, but it is impossible to demonstrate a causal connection between affirmative action and individual success, especially as opposed to the elimination of legal barriers to opportunity that have occurred in the later part of the 20th century. But the question of effectiveness is moot if the practice itself runs afoul of the law. Our jurisprudence cannot be one of pragmatics if we hope to maintain a free and stable society. And until this case, the Court's jurisprudence as represented in Grutter was certainly more pragmatic than legal, since the scheme was only contingently constitutional.

Notwithstanding, Lewis Powell was right in observing that campus diversity is important. He went too far, however, in concluding that it demanded discriminatory means to guarantee it. But no person of any race, sex, or viewpoint can truly excel in homogenous bubbles in a plural society. At some point, each of us will have colleagues, friends, and neighbors different from us in both superficial and meaningful ways, and we should know how to engage with them as equals.

This is the genius and the truth of the imago Dei: human diversity is as broad as humanity itself, but there is still an essential unity in that each unique and unrepeatable person bears the image of God. We truly are made for and made better in communities of goodwill that seek the best for all members. The imago Dei is the basis of solidarity and the root of understanding that "all men are created equal, [and] endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights." It is an atomized "rugged individualism" that understands our rights as something to assert over and against others and asks God, "Am I my brother's keeper?" or asks a neighbor, "Am I obligated to have concern for your suffering?" It's the personalist anthropology of the Christian tradition that affirms both that we are individual humans with dignity and worth and part of the human collective.

Because we are all unique and unrepeatable, people are much more complex than race-based admissions programs acknowledge or are even capable of capturing. The reality is that there are multiple axes of diversity, and not all axes are relevant to every context. No group defined along any axis is monolithic--not all women hold all things in common. Not all black or white or Asian people hold all things in common. Not all wealthy or poor people hold all things in common. The point is that none of these aspects of identity holistically defines any member or all members of a particular group. Affirmative action, by checking boxes based on one or even a few axes of diversity, cannot equitably take into consideration enough of the factors of inequality to compensate for the things that can make life unfair. In attempting to use such programs to cure one social ill, new resentments are created and old ones are intensified as those who hold underprivileged positions on different axes of diversity are afforded no equivalent special opportunities.

Actual life experiences are a good guide for the admission process.

Posted by at July 5, 2023 8:15 AM