Why Minorities-Only Help Programs Seem Wrong

A Chronicle of Higher Education article this week was headlined “Minority Male Students Face Challenge to Achieve at Community Colleges,” and it discussed various successes and failures in that eponymous arena. Particularly intriguing was this passage:   

And instead of offering small, “boutique” programs for minority students that attract just a few dozen students, [one expert] said, colleges should extend programs like mandatory study-skills classes, learning communities, and tutoring to all students. Minority students will benefit disproportionately from such strategies, she said, but they won’t feel embarrassed by participating or feel that they’re being singled out as “at risk.”

I thought of this in light of President Obama’s announcement yesterday of his new  “My Brother’s Keeper” program, which is racially exclusive and aimed at the same “at risk” young men of color. The White House, by the way, uses “of color” to include Hispanics (which is not a nonracial group) and to exclude Asians (which is), but that’s a story for another day.

Anyway, and putting aside the constitutional and Civil Rights Act problems of the president’s new program, what kind of a message is being sent when one or two racial/ethnic groups are singled out for special treatment because they are so likely to screw up?  Or should it be assumed instead that they are being singled out because The System is so stacked against them?

I’m not sure which message is worse.  How difficult would it have been for the president to have designed the new program so that it was open to at-risk youth of all colors — the way even the Chronicle of Higher Education, for Pete’s sake, apparently acknowledges makes more sense?


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