Pro/Con: Affirmative action
June 4, 2023
After four years of stretching yourself thin — taking advanced classes, being in every extracurricular, getting perfect grades — when it is finally time to apply to college, you feel pretty good about your chances to attend your dream school, Harvard. Your dad went there, his dad went there and so on, and you want to continue the family legacy. But then you get rejected.
It would be very easy to attribute this rejection to affirmative action, claiming that the reason you didn’t get in is because you’re white. But the fact is that not everyone will be accepted into a college of their choice, even if they have a strong application. But those who ascribe their rejection to affirmative action only perpetuate racist ideology. It leads to the belief that minority students are accepted because of their race, thus diminishing their accomplishments and intelligence.
Affirmative action was developed to provide everyone, regardless of race or ethnicity, equal educational opportunities and access. This development is an essential step in achieving equality in a system historically built upon discrimination.
Most colleges have excluded minorities since their founding, so they have historically only focused on educational opportunities for white students. Without taking race into account during admissions, the racist systems from the past, if left unchecked, will dictate who is allowed access to selective universities.
For instance, “legacy students,” children of alumni, have significant advantages during admissions. These benefits are due to past racial exclusion where prestigious schools only admitted white families. Therefore, it is far less likely for minorities to be legacy students. Affirmative action initiatives, however, prevent this racist cycle.
These programs are often misconstrued as making race the determining factor in admissions. But this is simply not true. Affirmative action efforts include targeted outreach and recruitment efforts, after-school and mentorship programs and the widening of criteria for admissions.
A common criticism of affirmative action is that it is no longer necessary. That as a society, opportunities for minorities have expanded, so the conditions that used to justify it are no longer relevant in the modern-day.
But this is not the case. According to the ACLU, millions of Americans still “experience race and gender barriers in education, contracting and employment.” Legislation aimed at preventing this discrimination exists, but these laws are not enough.
For instance, in 2006, the University of Michigan halted its affirmative action initiatives, according to The New York Times. As a result, Black undergraduate enrollment declined from 7% to 4% as of 2021, even as the total percentage of college-age African Americans in Michigan increased. At the same time, Native American enrollment, once at 1%, dropped to 0.11% in 2021.
The Washington Post reports that white Americans are more likely to oppose affirmative action than other racial groups, with nearly two-thirds in opposition. While many claim to favor merit-based, “color-blind” policies, it is because they benefit from the current discriminatory system and don’t want to change it. They claim that when someone is accepted into college because of affirmative action, someone more “deserving,” oftentimes a white person, is denied.
I recognize that I benefit from these historically discriminatory systems, and so it would be easy for me to discredit affirmative action. However, I also acknowledge how close-minded and unfair that mindset is. If we all claim to support equality, why denounce initiatives that are bringing about necessary change?
“The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race,” Chief Justice John Roberts said. It is a rather simple principle, but one that proponents of affirmative action dispute.
Simply put, affirmative action calls for discrimination against a group of people because of their race or ethnicity.
I don’t deny that affirmative action is rooted in good intentions. For years, our country suffered from an epidemic of racism that denied minorities opportunities in education and the workforce. To make up for that, schools now lower their standards of admission for African American and Latino students relative to white students and Asian Americans. However, the solution to prejudice is not more prejudice.
Affirmative action is meant to increase the opportunities afforded to minorities. A primary example of this is in universities, where minorities are given a boosted chance of admission simply because of the color of their skin. Therefore, affirmative action discriminates against white and Asian-American students.
Ideally, everyone would be afforded a stellar education at the university of their choosing, but that isn’t possible. There are a finite number of spots at universities, and for students to be denied acceptance because they don’t have the complexion of a minority is wrong. It’s discrimination.
When my grandfather graduated from Harvard Law School, he was denied job after job because he was Jewish. Although he graduated at the top of his class, many law firms wouldn’t hire a Jew. But the law firms which refused my grandfather a job should not be compelled to hire me to repent for their past antisemitism. I should have to work for that job like anyone else, regardless of race, ethnicity or religion.
Many supporters of affirmative action claim that affirmative action provides low-income applicants opportunities that wouldn’t otherwise be affordable due to their economic class. They believe that if these students were raised more wealthy, they would have performed better academically.
And while that may be true, affirmative action doesn’t address that problem. According to a study by professors from Duke University, the University of Georgia and the University of Oklahoma, “disadvantaged African American applicants do not receive the same admissions preference relative to their more advantaged African American peers.” Affirmative action doesn’t actually help the disadvantaged because wealthier minorities are reaping the admissions benefits.
Furthermore, affirmative action harms the minorities it is designed to help. According to Robert VerBruggen of the Manhattan Institute, there is a “tendency of students who receive large preferences to fall low on within-school measures such as class rank.” Students who are accepted into highly competitive universities despite lower academic performance often struggle with advanced classes. These students would thrive at universities better suited to their academic levels, but because of affirmative action, they are incentivized to attend more prestigious universities.
College acceptances are a zero-sum game. Every time someone gets accepted because of affirmative action, someone with better grades, higher test scores or stronger extracurriculars gets denied. Not everyone can get into the top colleges, but many students work hard to earn their spot, and to have it taken away from them because they don’t have the right skin color is wrong.
Affirmative action is a practice that must be abolished. It denies deserving students the opportunity to attend top universities while thrusting unprepared students into academic environments not catered to them. Affirmative action is not a response to discrimination; it’s a return to it.