Last week, UC Berkeley's Boalt Hall School of Law disclosed that its new first-year class will include only 19 "underrepresented minorities"--18 Latinos, one African American and no Native Americans. The numbers were the first result of the UC regents' decision to ban affirmative action in admissions and some minority students who turned down Boalt cited the policy as one reason. Eddie Lara of Pico Rivera last week told The Times that he chose to enroll at Columbia Law School instead because he thought it would be more racially diverse and, thus, more welcoming. But Nick Buford, 22, the son of Cuban immigrants, explains below why he will be going to Boalt--though he too was accepted at Columbia and half a dozen other law schools.
I am a Cuban American student originally from Southern California who has decided to attend Boalt Hall (Berkeley's law school) this fall as a first-year student. In other words, I am one of the nameless/faceless "18 enrolling Latinos" cited in your recent newspaper article.
I read with interest about Eddie Lara, a Latino student from Pico Rivera who studied as an undergraduate at Berkeley and has decided to attend Columbia Law School rather than attend Boalt Hall because he expects to find a more "diverse" and therefore "less hostile" environment there.
My feelings and experience could not be 100% more opposite than Eddie Lara's because I have already seen the path that Eddie has decided to travel.
I did my undergraduate studies at Harvard University. I did very well at Harvard. I graduated in 1996 magna cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa--earning my four-year college degree and graduating in just three years. I was also in the top 5% of my Harvard graduating class. In high school, I was the valedictorian of El Modena High School in Orange, Calif., and a National Hispanic Scholar, a National Merit Scholar and a National Science Scholar. I went to Harvard on about 28 scholarships which covered almost all of my expenses.
To the contrary of what Eddie Lara expects to find in East Coast society, it was during my college experience at Harvard that I felt monumentally out of place. As the son of recent Cuban immigrants, Harvard was the alienating experience for me, not Boalt or Berkeley.
Columbia, Harvard and the like are nothing like California society. To be blunt, there is absolutely no economic diversity at these institutions, [despite] the cultural diversity produced by the affirmative action policies there. Though the entering classes at these law schools may have more brown or black faces among them than Boalt Hall, these people will have little in common with Eddie's Pico Rivera upbringing, and his experience in middle-class or working-class Southern California.
On the East Coast, the Latino and African American students that I met were almost all graduates of the major establishment "prep schools" and "preparatory academies" . . . Phillips Exeter Academy, Phillips Andover Academy, Choate Rosemary Hall, etc. Most Californians have never heard of these places, as I had never heard of them prior to enrolling at Harvard.
The truth behind the numbers at these East Coast law schools is that it is the sons and daughters of the most wealthy and privileged minorities who benefit from affirmative action policies, and it is they who make up these law school classes. I've seen, and met, the results of these policies.
As a society, California is characterized by more upward social mobility than any Columbia or Harvard on the East Coast. Just because the faces of Columbia's or Harvard's students may be black or brown, California Latinos from middle-class and working-class backgrounds will have little in common with them. As one such student, I certainly didn't feel at home there. I found out that I had very little in common with the minority students from the East Coast who were the sons and daughters of the economic elite.