By The Gettysburgian Editorial Board
The United States is a diverse country built by people from every corner of the world. American identity has been developed from immigrants who brought their cultures, traditions and values to their new home. Despite the country’s reliance on immigration and diversity, the government has repeatedly mistreated members of minority communities. Through its history, American society has profited from the exploitation of people of color. African, Asian, Hispanic and Indigenous Americans have faced repeated discrimination in government policy. Perhaps the most visible example of this is the history of slavery and segregation in America. The centuries’ long enslavement of African Americans and subsequent century of segregation represents how the government has repeatedly worked against the well-being of minorities in ways that continually disadvantage them.
Institutionalized Racism describes the way that hundreds of years of discriminatory policy has ingrained itself into American society and continues to affect minorities today. Institutionalized racism causes many Black communities to be underfunded and underrepresented in government. They are overpoliced and impoverished compared to white-majority communities. This was not random, nor was it an accident. It is the direct result of our nation’s history of discriminatory policy at every level of government. Today, racial segregation is illegal, but the impact of past injustices persist. Institutionalized racism will continue to impact American minorities if we do not actively work to counter the wrongdoings of the past and present. These effects cannot disappear on their own.
The effects of institutionalized racism extend deeply into higher education. The 2020 Census tells us that 41.9% of White Americans over the age of 25 hold a bachelor’s degree. That number is just 28.1% for African Americans, 20.9% for non-White Hispanic Americans and just 15.4% for Indigenous Americans. Affirmative Action was created to mitigate this discrepancy.
Affirmative Action is the term that describes the collection of programs, laws, executive orders and precedents designed to correct centuries of discrimination for those affected on the basis of race, creed, color and national origin. For the past five decades, colleges and universities across the country, under the legal framework of Affirmative Action, were able to consider race in their admissions processes in order to provide opportunity to people from disadvantaged groups. The number of students in higher education from disadvantaged racial groups increased as Affirmative Action policy was implemented by thousands of colleges and universities nationwide. While racial minorities are still underrepresented on campuses nationwide, Affirmative Action allowed universities to move towards diversifying their student bodies.
Affirmative Action was struck down by the Supreme Court on June 29, 2023. Affirmative Action was not a permanent solution to undo the centuries of racism that has embedded itself into American society and law—but it was a start. Its overturn does not have to mean the end of diversity on campuses. It’s up to us, the student body, to promote diversity at Gettysburg College in a post-Affirmative Action America by working to make campus a more safe and accepting place for everyone.
This college has a storied history of opposing racial oppression. The college was founded by outspoken abolitionists Thaddeus Stevens and Samuel Simon Schmucker long before the majority of Americans recognized the evils of slavery. The battle that changed the course of the war to end slavery was fought right here on our campus. We, as members of the Gettysburg College community, are obligated to continue making Gettysburg College a place for progress. It is vital that the student body and administration works to further diversify our campus. The end of Affirmative Action cannot be used as an excuse to allow the progress this college has made towards diversity to disappear.
Not only did Affirmative Action work to correct past discrimination against gender and racial minorities, it also had the effect of creating more diverse student bodies in universities. Diversity of background, thought, ideology, ethnicity and gender should be strived for in any institution of higher education. Students are here to be introduced to new ideas and to learn new things that could not be learned at home. Learning from people with very different backgrounds, experiences and views challenges one’s preconceived notions and strengthens their understanding of the world around them. Gettysburg College is a better place to learn when its students are from a diverse set of backgrounds.
The student body can promote diversity through making our campus culture more accepting of people from all backgrounds. Students are most responsible for the nature of campus culture, so it is up to us to create an environment in which all feel welcomed. However, the student body cannot change the fact that Gettysburg College is a predominately white institution. Policy change at the administrative level is essential to achieving diversity. Through taking income into account during the admissions process and expanding scholarship programs for students of disadvantaged racial groups, the administration would live up to their promise of promoting diversity on campus.
The single largest barrier to higher education is the cost. College tuition has skyrocketed over the decades. Gettysburg College raises tuition every year. For the 2023-2024 academic year, the total price of tuition, room and board and a meal plan is $79,760. Without scholarships, the cost of a bachelor’s degree at Gettysburg College is $319,040. If the administration wants to diversify its student body, it should consider how steep that price is to the vast majority of people. It is also possible for Gettysburg to offer scholarships specifically for students from underrepresented backgrounds. This is a common practice at many other universities as it helps ensure a well-rounded student body and was not outlawed by the overturn of Affirmative Action.
Universities can still consider income in the admissions process. U.S. Census Bureau data tells us that household income for White Americans is $77,999, it is just $48,297 for African Americans, $57,981 for Hispanic Americans, and $53,148 for Indigenous Americans. Those from low-income backgrounds are significantly less likely to go to college simply because it is less accessible to them. Considering income in the admissions process would benefit low-income Americans of all racial backgrounds, making college more accessible for all Americans who struggle financially. Making Gettysburg College more accessible by taking income into account in admissions will lead to a student body that more accurately reflects the demographics of this country while also lessening the financial burden on students of all backgrounds.
President Bob Iuliano is a vocal proponent of Affirmative Action. At his previous position at Harvard University, Iuliano was heavily involved in defending the university’s Affirmative Action programs from lawsuits. The day that Affirmative Action was overturned, Iuliano sent an email to the entire Gettysburg community. In this email, he expressed his deep disappointment in the Supreme Court’s decision, but remained hopeful for the future of diversity on this campus.
“As Gettysburgians, we often reflect on Lincoln’s charge of us to advance the ‘unfinished work’ of our time. The Supreme Court’s ruling is yet another example of how this work remains unfinished,” Iuliano stated.
It is clear that President Iuliano and the administration recognize the importance of diversity at Gettysburg College. However, only the administration has the power to create policy that allows for people of disadvantaged racial groups to more easily access a Gettysburg education. By considering income in admissions, working to curb tuition increases and expanding upon scholarship programs for students of color, Gettysburg will continue to uphold its promise to cultivate a diverse community. The power of institutions led to the inequalities we see today, so it is up to the power of institutions to make amends.
This article originally appeared on pages 20 to 21 of the October 2023 edition of The Gettysburgian’s magazine.