November 28, 2022
In November 2022, I was given the opportunity to write about my thoughts regarding affirmative action for colleges and independent schools. While I eagerly accepted that challenge, I readily admit that asking an 83-year-old white male who benefited from having a privileged life, I may not have much credibility with people of color who were not given the opportunity to attend an all-white male independent boys school, an all-white male college in Bristol England, and an all-white male university in Princeton, New Jersey. Despite that background, however, I have become a staunch advocate of affirmative action. Not surprisingly, this transformation took time and involved my learning lessons from various people I respected and admire.
I’ll start with my father, the former 36-year Headmaster of Tabor Academy. As much as I admired the job he did in enabling that school to grow from 42 boys when he became the Head of School to 550 boys 36 years later when he retired, I still remember and respect the fact that he made two decisions that required courage. Right after the conclusion of World War II, Dad admitted a young man from Japan who wanted to learn English and then go on to a university in the United States (Harvard). Five or six years later, Dad admitted two African American young men. This stunned many of the citizens of the then-lily-white community of Marion, Massachusetts.
The second step in my moral development occurred in 1957 when I had the opportunity to attend Clifton College in Bristol, England. As much as I enjoyed and benefited from that experience, I readily admit that I was appalled by two phenomena over which I had no control. Specifically, I was stunned by the fact that students from India were openly referred to as “Wogs.” That was not a term of endearment. In addition, I was also taken aback when I learned that all of the Jewish students who lived on campus were required to live in a separate dormitory, and they were required to attend the daily Christian chapel service. To say that I was a confused “Yank” was an understatement.
The third step towards my moral maturation process occurred when I enrolled as a freshman at Princeton University. Assuming that my memory has not deteriorated too much, I think that there were only three African American students and a similar number…