Guinier urges broader thinking on race, gender, less emphasis on college admissions tests
Lani Guinier, the first black woman appointed to a tenured professorship at Harvard Law School, spoke of connecting race, class and gender and what she considers an over-emphasis on college admissions test scores Tuesday, March 3, as part of The University of Texas at Arlington Maverick Speaker Series. The lecture was given in conjunction with the university’s Diversity Lecture Series and Women’s History Month.
Guinier previously headed the Voting Rights Project at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and served in the Attorney General’s Office Civil Rights Division under President Carter. She is author of six books and many articles on democratic theory, political representation, educational equity and issues of race and gender.
Here’s what she said:
On urging the audience to think differently about race, class and gender, Guinier said the focus should shift from “fixing” those who are left behind to rethinking the system to make it better for everyone. Many years ago, coal miners took canaries into the mines, and, when the birds became unable to breathe, the miners knew it was time leave the mine, she said.
“Instead of fitting out the birds with tiny gas masks, isn’t it better to improve the environment so that it is better for the miners?” she said.
On the importance placed on SAT, ACT and LSAT scores, Guinier said they are overrated.
“SAT scores can far better predict what kind of car the parents drive than how well the student will do in college,” she said.
Public universities admission standards should be more like the Marines, she said, accepting students who meet a specified threshold, then developing and adding value to them. Instead, admission standards often behave more like modeling schools that base acceptance on the beauty that is already there.
“Universities often boast about their students’ high SAT scores,” Guinier said. “They should focus on what they can bring to the student, not what was already there.”
On why she became a civil rights attorney, Guinier recalled at age 10 seeing television news reports of James Meredith, the first black student at the University of Mississippi, as he walked through a jeering mob with civil rights attorney Constance Baker Motley.
“She walked through that crowd with such dignity and such strength. I knew the law had to be very powerful for her to do that and I wanted to be an attorney,” Guinier said.
Guinier’s lecture was part of the Maverick Speakers Series, Diversity Week and Women’s History Month. The Maverick Speaker Series continues at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, March 25, in the Rosebud Theater when Barbara Ehrenreich, sociologist and best-selling author, discusses her books “Nickel and Dimed” and “Bait and Switch,” in conjunction with the Annual Celebration of Excellence by Students research symposium. The event is free and no tickets are required.