By Dan Horn
The Cincinnati Enquirer
Greater Cincinnati students are as divided on racial preferences as the Supreme Court justices who voted 5-4 Monday to keep the policy alive on college campuses.
College-bound students had sharply different views after the court upheld an admissions policy at the University of Michigan, which makes race a factor in deciding who gets into law school.
Some students said the ruling is unfortunate because merit - not race - should be the only factor that matters. Others said the court took a reasonable approach that will allow schools to maintain a diverse student body without compromising academics.
"I don't agree with racial quotas, but I do believe we still need some form of affirmative action," said Danielle Tooson, a recent graduate of Northwest High School who will attend Xavier University this fall. "A lot of racial inequality still goes on in America."
Tooson, who is African-American, said she got good grades in high school and does not believe her race helped her get into college. But she said giving some minorities a break, as long as their grades and test scores are competitive, is a fair way to offset racial inequities in society.
"To get rid of affirmative action, we'd be taking a step back," Tooson said.
Natalie Lawrence-Slater, a senior this fall at Wyoming High School, said racial preference sets back both white and black students because it sets a standard based on skin color. It's unfair, she said, for any qualified student to lose a scholarship or a place in school because of race.
"I think (admissions) should be on educational merit and the character of the person," said Lawrence-Slater, who is white. "The color of a person's skin really doesn't matter."
At Walnut Hills High School, students regularly debated the value of racial preferences this year while awaiting the ruling from the Supreme Court.
"It got pretty heated," said Brandon Kocher, who will be a senior next year. He said he supports the policy and isn't worried about his race - he's white - hurting his chances of getting into college.
But some college-bound seniors are worried. "I don't think race should be a factor in any decision," said Katie Chalk, a senior next year at Turpin High School. "Everybody is equal."
Chalk, who is white, said she's worried less about getting into college than she is about the competition for scholarships and financial aid, which she believes favors minorities. She said grades, test scores and a good work ethic should be what matters most.
"You can't control where you're born and you can't control your race," she said. "But you can control how hard you work."
Heather Heldman, a senior next year at Walnut Hills, said she has seen heated arguments among her friends about racial preferences. And she struggles with the issue herself.
On one hand, she said, she sees the need to "level the playing field" for minorities. On the other, she can't help feeling it's wrong to give anyone an advantage because of skin color.
"I'd be happier to see a system that is completely merit-based," said Heldman, who is white. "But society is not to the point where everything is equal."
Ebonie Byndon, a University of Michigan student who is in Cincinnati for the summer, said there's nothing wrong with considering race in student admissions. As an African-American, she said, she knows from experience that it's na‘ve to think race doesn't matter.
"I don't think we're at the point in society where we are past race," Byndon said.
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