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Don’t forget the ‘PWMs’

Alex Andre | Friday, November 2, 2012

Dear Mr. Pearce,
I read your article “URM Debate” (Oct. 28), and I thought your goal of helping “URMs” (under-represented minorities) to “achieve their full human potential” was commendable. However, in your altruistic fervor, I believe you have neglected to consider another minority group which you and I both occupy: privileged white males (PWMs, if you will).
Your argument makes perfect sense. As you noted, URM students can sometimes seem humiliated and frustrated. Previously I had attributed this to things like institutional discrimination, marginalizing terms such as “URM” and obnoxious classmates who hold prejudiced and paternalistic opinions about issues like affirmative action. But after reading your article it became clear to me that it was because URMs simply are “less qualified” and “don’t belong,” and furthermore that their racial communities are “characterized by mediocrity.” Ouch! I would be humiliated, too.
You have also opened my eyes to the true motivation of universities in this system. Observing the lack of incentives to do otherwise, I previously had thought that universities (especially private ones) admitted URMs solely because of their abilities to enrich both the academic and social communities on campus. I thought that universities had valued the diverse experiences and perspectives of URMs as essential contributions to an atmosphere of inquiry, learning and growth.
Additionally, I thought universities valued the strong-willed character necessary to overcome institutional prejudice and daily microaggressions (written or otherwise) as an indicator of an ability to persist and succeed after graduation, ultimately bolstering the reputation of their alma mater. But I have now seen the light. As you pointed out, universities have in fact been driven by the same altruism which motivated your article, wanting to “[show] [URMs] that they are as good as anyone else.”
Although URMs have neither expressed complaints about the current system nor asked for assistance, the urge to help them is understandable. As PWMs, we have an uncanny ability to know what’s best for others even when they don’t and to express these convictions without the pesky intrusion of empathy and self-consciousness.
But let us not be so selfless as to forget ourselves and our PWM brothers. When PWMs leave college, we inevitably are confronted with more “artificial diversity,” which we are unable to escape even in the highest ranks of society.
It’s like a conspiracy. If only your letter could be read and appreciated by groups such as the Nobel committee and the 2008 American electorate, then maybe the world could begin to shake the nasty habit of “accepting URM applicants with weaker records.”
Until then, the reality remains that PWMs like you and I will be forced to live and work in a society rife with such “artificial diversity.” And how would we learn to behave in such a society without the presence of URMs on campus? Without URMs around to help us, we might continue to cling to bigoted opinions which offend our URM peers (like those underlying your article), making it difficult to function in society after graduation.
Your article and its subsequent backlash are an example of the learning experiences that you and I benefit from by having URMs on campus, so that we may learn not repeat those mistakes at work or in other important scenarios in the future. So I’m glad you’re getting it out of your system now. But – from one PWM to another – don’t forget the PWMs!
Alex Andre can be reached at
aandre@nd.edu
    The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.