Do You Support Affirmative Action In Higher Education?

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affirmative action

I remember senior year of high school outspokenly raising my hand in class and saying, “I don’t support affirmative action. It’s not fair, race shouldn’t matter. I should be able to get into college on my own merits.” My teacher was surprised at my opinion and said, “Anyway that you can get in, take it.” I was shocked by his response. At the time I didn’t understand the economic corruption (is that too strong a word) involved in private institutions or people of colors’ complex history with such institutions. It didn’t feel right to me that I could get an opportunity at the expense of someone else because of my race when at the time that seemed like the very thing the Civil Rights movements had tried to reconcile.

As I got more informed my opinons changed. This week the Supreme Court made a ruling in favor of affirmative action but then sent the case back to lower courts for further review. Although their decision is ultimately more positive than negative, it seems. In the case Fisher vs. The University of Texasthe court ruled that it was not necessary to use affirmative action to redress a previous history of racism but affirmative action is necessary in academic institutions. The Supreme Court stated, “[There is] one compelling interest that could justify the consideration of race: the interest in the educational benefits that flow from a diverse student body. “

This is fascinating. As a born and bred New Yorker, I often forget that there are so many people in this country who don’t get exposed to much racial diversity. I had so many new friends in college try falafel for the first time when they got here. I was like, “But it’s falafel! That’s like street food here!” My bestie is Jewish and all the time people (non-NY’ers) often tell her she is the first Jewish person they had ever met. Wild.

Fisher, who is probably a very annoying girl, sued the University of Texas because she was not accepted in 2008. She felt that because the university uses race as a factor in the admissions process (applicants are given extra points if they are of color) that she was unjustly declined admission. Which would be true if there were racial quotas, which had previously existed but were deemed unconstitutional by the Supreme Court because requiring a certain amount of non-white students clearly could result in excluding qualified white ones. If the university’s only admissions requirement was race then maybe she’d have something to be upset about. However, it is one factor in many.

Salon points out, “The reason universities do not automatically represent the full diversity of our population is because of the history of past discrimination which means that, in general, white kids start several rungs higher than kids of color on the ladder of opportunity.” This is unfortunately true. It’s difficult to understand and it took me a while to really grasp the logic behind the massive racial inequality between Blacks and Whites.

However, we must consider that the Supreme Court ruling which was 7:1, decided that affirmative action in academic institutions is necessary because racial diversity itself is educational, not because the United States needs to fix its “race issue,” so presumably racial disadvantages have little do with it.

Justice Ginsberg, the “dissenter,” argued in favor of a kind of affirmative action that seeks to address our history with inequality, saying, ” I have several times explained why government actors, including state universities, need not be blind to the lingering effects of ‘an overtly discriminatory past,’ the legacy of ‘centuries of law-sanctioned inequality. Among constitutionally permissible options, I remain convinced, ‘those that candidly disclose their consideration of race [are] preferable to those that conceal it.’”

Salon continues, ” Justice Ginsburg writes that anyone who thinks there are supposedly neutral, race unconscious alternatives must be an ostrich. Which makes anyone who thinks we no longer need to actively pursue diversity in our society a blind and ignorant ostrich.”

As Justice Ginsberg suggests, if affirmative action allowed institutions to acknowledge this when accepting students, we’d have some interesting results. It wouldn’t mean colleges are accepting a bunch of unqualified people just because they are Asian or Black or Hispanic, it means that they would be using different tools to measure their success because of implied disadvantages, then deciding if they believe those students will actually have success at the institution.

So what do you think? Should race be a factor? Do you think that if institutions were ‘color blind’ we’d still have the same ration of non-whites to whites? Do you think that affirmative action can resolve inequality enough to a point where we won’t need it any more?

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