We’ve all gone through the dreaded college application process. There were far too many essays written at 2 a.m. and countless interviews where you had spinach from lunch in your teeth. Then when it was all done with, you had to wait for months to find out whether or not you were good enough. Well, for next year’s high school seniors, the desirable qualifications might be a little bit different, and I can’t decide if that’s a good thing.
On Tuesday the Supreme Court announced its ruling on the controversial Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action. According to Oyez.com, an Illinois Institute of Technology at Chicago and Kent College of Law collaborative project (long-winded explanation, I know), the Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action challenged a 2006 Michigan referendum. The referendum amended Michigan’s state constitution to prohibit “all sex- and race-based preferences in public education, public employment, and public contracting.”
The Court ultimately decided that this referendum was constitutional. A Washington Post article from Tuesday noted that this ruling gives constitutional support to similar laws in California and Florida.
Now I know what you’re thinking, “Wow. A white girl from a middle class family doesn’t like affirmative action. How surprising!” Before you get incredibly offended by what you think I’m arguing, listen to this. I don’t have a problem with the concept of affirmative action. My issue is with how affirmative action is implemented.
Affirmative action was created to give those without access to higher education a better chance of succeeding. Specifically for universities, this meant giving disadvantaged applicants a boost in the application process. Somewhere along the way “disadvantaged” was equated with “minority.” This is where I have a problem.
The affirmative action system has become a system that perpetuates stereotypes and fails to actually help those in need. I am not the only one who has heard “She only got into Prestigious Ivy League because she’s black,” or “We have the same grades and test scores, but he’s Hispanic, so I probably won’t get in.”
Affirmative action in the college admissions process has created stereotypes that minority candidates might not be as qualified, but there’s an unwritten assumption that they have a better chance of getting that coveted acceptance letter based on their melanin count.
Introduced in the 1960s to combat centuries of racial discrimination, affirmative action sought to close the achievement gap. In a May 9, 2010 New York Times interview, Julián Castro, mayor of San Antonio and potential 2016 presidential candidate, said that he was accepted to Stanford because of affirmative action. Coming from a lower income neighborhood, both Castro and his identical twin brother, Joaquín, excelled in their environment, but didn’t quite measure up on standardized tests. Both men graduated from Stanford and then Harvard Law.
The Castros are obviously not the only example of affirmative action success stories. There are plenty of other cases where lower income students earned access to educations they might not have been able to afford or qualify for based on merit alone. The point here?
Affirmative action worked. That’s past tense, everybody, meaning that it is no longer working.
There is still plenty of work to be done in closing the achievement gap, but basing it solely on race severely limits our ability to help. It reinforces inaccurate stereotypes that do not promote equality and respect. There are plenty of minority millionaires in this country. Do you expect me to believe that the daughter of a successful Hispanic businessman needs help getting into college as much as a white waitress’s son? Affirmative action should reward those who have excelled in their environments, rather than look at superficial qualities, such as race.
Despite bans becoming more commonplace in the United States, affirmative action will continue to exist as long as private universities and companies survive. However, it could certainly use a makeover. Affirmative action should be based on socioeconomic situation, rather than race. In a country that is becoming increasingly diverse at all economic levels, we cannot stop at race. That unfairly says that all minority candidates need assistance, regardless of background. Logical fallacies like this will only prevent our country from becoming more accepting as a whole.
This is not to say that race shouldn’t be a consideration for university admissions teams. Diversity (in more ways than just race, mind you) is incredibly important for a college atmosphere, but a college cannot call itself diverse just because X percentage of its student body is not white.
We live in a country (and world) that is working toward equal opportunity for all. If we can only see one characteristic, namely race, we might as well be blind. The longer we perpetuate this system of affirmative action, the longer we will be unable to achieve true equality.
Sara Ryan is a freshman in the College of Arts and Sciences studying political science and math. She can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org.