The equity movement distilled in a single student
Changes in how we organize society happen over decades and across generations. Looking back, we can see shifts in our attitudes that signal movements that find their full expression many years later. If we miss these signals, we risk traveling down dangerous paths.
In the Spring of 1995, I found myself sitting in an upper-division sociology class at California State University, Los Angeles. For reasons I have never understood, students in the history department who had completed their upper-division courses were required to sit in on several sociology department classes. Looking back two and a half decades, I realize that it was a glimpse of what the equity movement would be.
A newly minted professor was leading a discussion of the text when a woman raised her hand and asked a question. "That is a good question," the professor responded. "Please look at page (whatever) and read the first paragraph for the class, and we can discuss it."
"No," the woman said.
The professor, taken aback, tried again. "The question you raise is a good question, and we can begin to understand it from the text, so please read the paragraph out loud and we can discuss it."
After a moment of silence, the professor began again. "It would be helpful..." before being interrupted by another student.
"Stop embarrassing her. She can't read. Why don't you just leave her alone?"
The other two history students and I looked at each other and then at the professor. She fiddled with her notes for a few seconds, then read the referenced paragraph herself.
CSULA was a "commuter college" serving a large proportion of students who worked full-time jobs and attended classes at night or worked nights to attend classes that were offered only in the daytime. Most students were not the demographic associated with the typical university student, and many had families and other obligations.
At this level, the question is not "how did this happen?" Rather, it's "why did this happen?" There had to be many professors and a handful of administrators who knew this woman was illiterate and could not possibly master the course work, yet she was progressing through the system.
It did not occur to me then, but this was an early expression of the equity movement, in which people are entitled to an outcome irrespective of their abilities or accomplishments. This woman was entitled to a college education regardless of her abilities or efforts, and, in the end, she would have a diploma that was of the same value as any other diploma from the same institution.
In all likelihood, this social science student finished her remaining year or so and received her degree before going to work for the largest employer in Los Angeles County, which is Los Angeles County. I imagine she is getting ready to retire as a dedicated and productive civil servant within the Department of Social Services. If she could hide her illiteracy through their junior year of college, she could hide just about anything within a labyrinthine monument to mediocrity like the L.A. County government.
Going back to that moment in 1995, at many different levels, many people had to believe she deserved to be at CSULA and that she deserved to work her way through the system without actually doing the work. They had to believe she deserved the outcome she desired without regard for her efforts or abilities. This is the distillation of the equity movement.
Equity, in its classical definition, is that which is possessed by right or earned through service. Was it this student's right to possess a college degree? No — otherwise, everyone would have a college degree. Had she earned it by working through the curricula? Highly doubtful, because she lacked the ability to read. The answer must be related to a different definition of equity.
The modern call for equity is based upon a quality of victimhood — namely, that some people are entitled to the property and privileges of other people because of historical wrongs to which the perceived victims' only modern connection is skin color. Thomas Sowell describes this as the Quest for Cosmic Justice — that we can correct the wrongs of the past by committing wrongs in the present.
Conferring wealth, privileges, and opportunities upon some at the expense of others based upon some perceived status of victimhood will not bring us closer to reconciliation. It will not teach that college junior, who is now a senior citizen, to read. The equity movement will not teach a new generation how to be good, decent, and honest people. It will only lead to higher levels of resentment and mediocrity.
Chris Boland can be contacted at email@example.com.