The Case of Affirmative Action
Written By: Mackenzie Pritchard
The United States’ college admission process is a complicated task, with admission officers analyzing all parts of a student’s life. This includes grades, test scores, extracurriculars, and most controversially, race. Affirmative action is one of the most disputed topics in admissions, in which colleges use race as a factor in choosing students. As explained by Khrista Sayo and Elissa Choi in the article “How Race Plays a Role in College Admissions,” “Universities around the nation are seeking to maintain a ‘racial quota’ amongst the student population on their campuses. Racial quotas are implemented to admit a balanced number of students according to their ethnicity, all the while attempting to create representation for all.” Although at its heart, affirmative action aims to reverse discrimination, it does not always create the change it claims to support.
The views towards affirmative action are conflicting, with many people disregarding and rejecting it. Even so, there must be a reason it has been such a staple in college admissions up to now. The main argument for affirmative action is the fact that it has diversified university communities. In the article “Why race-based affirmative action is still needed in college admissions,” Valerie Strauss points out the drastic differences in opportunity between white families and black families: “The average White family today holds more than $170,000 in net assets, compared with just $17,000 for the average Black family. In turn, middle-class Black families tend to live in more disadvantaged neighborhoods than middle-class White families. This affects where their children go to school, and who they go to school with.” Affirmative action is a way to bypass unequal education by providing people who are less privileged with a gateway into higher college education.
There is no question that affirmative action has increased diversity in universities; however, the Asian community is disproportionally discriminated against in many admissions decisions. They are lumped together with white applicants, and many are rejected based on a lacking “personal score.” A personal score rates a person on non-concrete aspects including likeability, kindness, and respectfulness. Despite this, many people in the Asian American community have benefited from affirmative action. The issue with the debate against affirmative action is that it is backed by white politicians who use people of color as scapegoats for their political agenda. Jonathon Chait, a self-named “squishy supporter” of affirmative action, writes, “Most Asian Americans support and benefit from affirmative action; white conservatives are using Asian Americans as a ‘racial mascot’ to dismantle affirmative action; Asian Americans will or must not be ‘used.’” Though this is true, white politicians have no right to speak in the place of the Asian American community.
The very recent case Students for Fair Admissions Inc. v. President and Fellows of Harvard College may threaten affirmative action. The key issue in this case, is the intentions of those fighting against affirmative action. Edward Blum, leader of the Students for Fair Admissions (SFFA), strongly opposes affirmative action, claiming it prioritizes certain minorities over others. In response to the SFFA’s actions regarding affirmative action, president of the Asian American Association at Harvard, Benjamin Chang states:
...the Harvard Asian American community has overwhelmingly supported race-conscious admissions, with 10 Asian student organizations filing an amicus brief for Harvard when the case was heard by the Massachusetts District Court in 2018. We’ve held rallies, made countless statements, spoken our truth in every way we know how, yet SFFA still asserts to represent our community.
Blum has a history of pitting minority groups against each other when tackling affirmative action cases, something that takes advantage of and increases existing racial inequality. Chang ends his statement to Blum with a powerful quote: “So please: Stop using people like me as a political tool to attack other communities of color. You do not speak for us.” This is yet another case where the voices of minority groups are subdued by those of white politicians.
When fighting affirmative action, there must also be thought put into how its removal would affect elite universities. In Harvard admissions, race is not the only aspect being considered. There is a disproportionate number of legacy students, and admissions favor richer, more privileged people: all in all, this favors white people. However, these are issues within the university itself, not with affirmative action.
Affirmative action teeters along a thin line between racial equality and discrimination. Its overuse can easily isolate minorities, the most obvious being Asian Americans. However, it also has its merits, diversifying communities and reaching out to people of all different backgrounds; it provides opportunities and encourages learning for all people in and out of the classroom.
Chait, Jonathan. “The Left Is Gaslighting Asian Americans about College Admissions.” Intelligencer, Intelligencer, 8 Feb. 2022, nymag.com/intelligencer/2022/02/the-left-is-gaslighting-asian-americans-on-school-admissions.html.
Chang, Benjamin. “Opinion | I'm an Asian American Harvard Student. The Anti-Affirmative-Action Case Does Not Speak for Me.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 4 Feb. 2022, www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2022/02/04/harvard-asian-american-student-believes-in-affirmative-action/.
Sayo, Khrista, and Elissa Choi. “How Race Plays a Role in College Admissions.” The Mirror, 15 Dec. 2016, vnhsmirror.com.
Strauss, Valerie. “Perspective | Why Race-Based Affirmative Action Is Still Needed in College Admissions.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 30 Jan. 2022, www.washingtonpost.com/education/2022/01/30/needed-affirmative-action-in-college-admissions/.