Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Recruitment Programs: Necessary, or Reverse Discrimination?

Recruitment programs in universities and for some government jobs, along the lines of "affirmative action" programs in America, have always made me feel a bit uncomfortable. I remember writing on a university exam that recruitment programs for racial diversity were a band-aid solution with which we should do away, in favour of focusing on initiatives that truly leveled the playing field for whites and minorities: programs that made it easier for kids from all races to stay in school, and that made higher education more accessible and affordable for everyone.

Are Recruitment Programs Reverse Discrimination?

A couple of the youth with intellectual disabilities with whom I've worked have chosen not to use some social advantages that their status offers them, rather than admit that they have disabilities. I'm not sure whether it was out of a desire not to be lumped in with people with disabilities, or whether they were bothered by what's arguably reverse discrimination. I know that when I considered applying for teacher's college several years ago, I was put off by assertions that the universities I considered welcomed applicants representing different races, religions, sexual orientations, and people with disabilities, to encourage diversity within the student body.

"What, do you want a medal?" I thought, irritated. "You should be doing that anyway, without feeling the need to congratulate yourselves over it!"

I knew it meant that I stood a better chance chance of getting into the teaching school than someone with my academic and extracurricular record who didn't have disabilities. This annoyed me too. I wanted to get in on my own steam, not because of my left side.

A Different Way of Viewing the Issue

I talked to a family friend about it, who said that I shouldn't feel badly about taking my disabilities be a consideration. She pointed out that that having disabilities meant that I'd had to overcome some unique challenges to get to the point where I could get into teacher's college and would mean that I'd have to overcome others to finish it. And, of course, it *is* good for students to be exposed to people in all areas of their lives who have disabilities. When I worked in schools, students were curious about my cane and my arm/hand and how it affected my life, and it actually gave me a common frame of reference that came in handy with some students with disabilities.

I never did end up applying for teacher's college. Ultimately, I believe I'm in now in favour of recruitment programs in principle, despite my answer on the university exam (that was over 10 years ago, after all) but I still really wish that we lived in a world where everyone had equal access to resources, was regarded equally by hiring committees, and gave us no need for recruitment programs. I'll stop there before I get into politics, because I know I said I'd let up on that for a while.

Is a Win-Win Situation A Good Enough Reason?

However, now, two months into unemployment and my only prospect potentially coming from a position perhaps coming from government funding specifically earmarked for creating employment opportunities for people with disabilities, I'm not feeling at all badly about taking advantage of that funding if it becomes available. I live in a very small town where the jobs for which I'm trained require a full driver's license and usually your own vehicle, both of which are at least a year away for me now that my seizures are medically under control.  Many of those jobs also require two functioning hands, as do retail and food service. I'm trying to break into writing, but that may take a while.

There's not a lot in my geographical area, in my line of work, that I can do, given my disabilities. So if there's some government money out there earmarked for creating work for people with disabilities, bring it on. This time I do feel I've got a legitimate claim to it, because it's either use it to compensate for legitimate challenges to obtaining work, or move somewhere else. And I like my where I live. It's good for me. And I like to think that I contribute to my community (and that I could even more, someday).

It's government money for a win-win.

That's a good thing, isn't it?

I'd be interested to hear other peoples' opinions on this.


  1. Hey Sarah - I'm very surprised to see you don't have comments on this blog because it is excellent! Let me first say how much I enjoy reading your grammatically correct writing! (So very rare these days!)

    I believe that in the vast majority of cases affirmative action programs are NOT reverse discrimination. We all need to understand that there is a need for an extra boost from time to time to give an individual a chance to succeed. A chance that most people have anyway. However it really disturbs me when so little is being done to enable continuing education for more people.

    I have recently returned to Australia after 12 years living in the US. The attitude towards education and access to education is very different. Seriously - the US needs to wake up and realize that prosperity derives from an educated and diverse population where curiosity can shine lights into different areas. If rich white kids are getting educated while others are not (in broad sweeping terms) then only the concepts and ideas of rich white kids will be explored. Here in Australia tertiary education is valued and government supported. (Not to the extent it was when I was a sprog fresh from school but still far more than the US). The government here actually thinks it is a good thing to encourage the people learn to think!

    Take what help you can get, you have enough struggles in your life to keep you busy mate!

  2. [...] moaning (most visible from the most vocal of the advantaged by birth, usually flying the banner of “reverse discrimination”), they become us through [...]