THE uncomfortable silence on race that reigns at many American
universities was shattered last month at Georgetown University Law
When Timothy Maguire, a third-year white student from New Jersey,
wrote an article in the student weekly citing the lower test scores
and grade-point averages of accepted black applicants compared to
white applicants, he met a barrage of angry indignation at his
breach of the peace.
Black students were outraged, finding their legitimacy at an
elite school called to question through what they see as incomplete
facts. The article seemed a direct assault on the most sensitive
point of perception for black students here:
Can they compete with other students or did they get here through
That question is at or near the center of the discomfort between
blacks and whites over race at schools and other institutions around
On campuses especially, matters of race have grown more shrill,
name calling more frequent. At the extremes, the so-called
politically correct argue that racism permeates every scene in daily
life, while so-called racists believe it has become a competitive
disadvantage to be white and male.
But the extremes paint a cartoon picture.
The Monitor held extensive conversations with students - black
and white - at one elite and well-integrated graduate school to seek
a picture of how some members of the next generation of opinion and
policy leaders thinks and feels about race.
The subject remains difficult to discuss in racially mixed
company. But the silence - which has become increasingly tense - is
White students here acknowledge an undercurrent of resentment,
both because they see affirmative action as giving an unfair
advantage to minority students and because of the risk of being
branded "racist" for discussing it.
"It's kind of a dirty little secret or whisper among white males
that if they weren't white males, they'd be at Harvard or
something," says Jay Hoover, a white third-year student.
Georgetown University Law Center is the largest law school in the
nation, and one of the most prestigious, although it ranks below
Harvard University, Yale, and a few other top law schools. Of its
2,000 law students, 11 percent are black. Only historically black
Howard University Law School has more black students enrolled this
year than Georgetown.
White students, in interviews and as described by faculty members
here and elsewhere, show less guilt about the race issue and feel
more competition between races than their older brothers and
In the 1970s and early 1980s, white students were more reluctant
to venture views on racial issues that might tag them as racists.
The taboo was too strong, liberal orthodoxies too pervasive on
Now, liberal students at Georgetown, struggling to maintain their
vision of the moral order against the rise of conservatism in the
outside world, sometimes hiss and charge racism and sexism when
their classmates raise arguments against affirmative action.
The faculty here, as at most other law schools, is virtually
unanimously on their side.
But conservative views, Mr. Maguire's among them, are
increasingly emerging. Maguire has received letters of support, he
says, from students "terrified to discuss these things openly."
The youngest group of students here was born in 1969, well after
the end of legal discrimination in this country.
Few, if any, have ever known racism in its most blatant, virulent
forms. Further, some of the black students in these classes went to
elite preparatory schools and Ivy League colleges, raising questions
among some whites about whether color and disadvantage go together. …