Affirmative action doesn't work. Mentoring, on the other hand, is proving to be a smashing success. It truly helps minorities in schools and the workplace without creating the hard feeling bred by quotas.
I recently had the pleasure of meeting Norman McLean, the highest-ranking college administrator in England. In 1992, Mr. McLean began a mentoring program at the University of East London to help black students create relationships in the professional community, make career decisions and gain valuable work experience. The program was so productive that it became the National Mentoring Consortium (NMC) in 1994, and has expanded to top-rate universities like Oxford. Employers now working with the NMC include banks, law firms, the police and industry.
England does not have the extensive affirmative action programs that exist here in the United States. The Consortium, however, has given blacks not only the foot in the door that American affirmative action does but also an educational and professional experience safety net that affirmative action does not. NMC placement works like an internship, and English companies are eager to recruit from the black community. The police force, which is currently experiencing the same racial problems as its American counterpart, is actively looking for interested and experienced minorities.
NMC has delivered. The first black production manager for Rolls-Royce (and the youngest black PhD in England) is a NMC participant. He is also expected to be the first graduate of the program to actually become a mentor himself. He is so pleased with what the NMC did for him that he is hoping to establish a similar program in his native Somalia.
Affirmative action in the United States is meant to provide jobs for blacks in formerly closed fields. Correcting a past injustice is admirable, but requiring an employer to provide black faces in order to fill a quota is unfair both to employers and employees. Productivity is being put at risk, as is the self-esteem and potential for personal growth for those being "helped."
Thankfully, mentoring is catching on here in the United States.
Northwestern magazine, the alumni magazine of my alma mater of Northwestern University, recently profiled the university's own Mentoring Program for African-American and Hispanic Freshmen. The program, which pairs students with alumni of similar career/academic interests and racial/ethnic backgrounds, helps students adjust to the predominantly white school and provides them with valuable advice on career options.
Northwestern's program was started in 1994 over concerns that the school was not attracting nor retaining enough minority students. This past school year, over 70% of the African-Americans in the freshmen class participated in the program, and over 125 alumni volunteered to help.
One success story is Jo'Von Hardy. Hardy's grades and enthusiasm for school were in a downward spiral until she was introduced to recent graduate David C. Hinton. Hardy said Hinton's advice and involvement "brought all my grades up at least a letter." Hinton was even able to get Hardy an internship with his company that has propelled her towards a career in environmental engineering.
Northwestern is not an isolated case. A 1989 Lou Harris poll found 73% of students with mentors said the relationships raised their expectations. 59% said it improved their grades. Affirmative action unfortunately offers no such support.
With the current generation of black college students being among the
first in their families to go to college, they lack the family experience
and connections of other students. Affirmative action programs that dump
them at the door of a school or a job and run for cover offer no help. Norman
McLean's advances in mentoring are responsible for tremendous strides in
black advancement and racial healing in England without the scars that affirmative
action has inflicted on our shores. Let's hope mentoring successes here
can be repeated and eventually replace damaging affirmative action requirements.
(David Almasi is director of Project 21. He can be reached at DAlmasi@nationalcenter.org.)
Note: New Visions Commentaries reflect the views of their author, and not necessarily those of Project 21.
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