For those Americans who assume that college students today are left-wing activists who aren’t in touch with the real world, our latest focus group will be especially eye-opening. Rarely have we been as surprised by a focus group as when we asked this racially and socioeconomically diverse group of 12 students whether they supported affirmative action in college admissions. Just one person said yes. Minority students in the focus groups said they don’t want others to assume they are on campus only because of affirmative action. “It creates your identity for you,” one Black participant said.
Racial and ideological diversity was on the minds of the students in interesting ways. Many of them mentioned, unprompted, their awareness of racial tensions and privilege. One white male student said many white students were privileged to receive ACT tutoring to help gain an edge in admissions and enjoyed other advantages that many minority students did not. One white woman talked about being ostracized at her school because she stood up for people of color. A few had experiences of professors injecting their political views into a class where they seemingly didn’t belong, making the students uncomfortable.
Most of the students said they approached college as pragmatists; they saw it as a path to a specific field, and some expressed frustration with classes that they didn’t see as having a clear point or utility. With costs looming larger and roughly half of them on student loans, some participants worried they were behind or wasting time paying for classes they don’t need for their career paths.
In other words, the opinions of this group of college students suggested a generally progressive outlook on society but not a doctrinaire one, with real skepticism about institutional systems and practices (even traditionally progressive ones like affirmative action and liberal politics in the classroom) that they don’t see as vital or helpful in preparing them for the challenges and realities of the world.
Read the full piece from the New York Times here.