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Affirmative Action: Necessary for today’s universities?

September 13, 2017

Leveling the playing field

Affirmative action. Two words that often leave a bad taste in many people’s mouths. This seemingly foul concept is actually an idea to support because it seems that no matter how much time passes, people will always find ways to discriminate. Affirmative action is a plan that tries to bring opportunities for those who haven’t had them due to the prejudice that afflicts this country.

President John F. Kennedy first set affirmative action into motion in order to reverse the effects of long term discrimination in the United States. It was meant to include people from minority groups in schools and the workforce in order to create diversity in these environments. And whether some choose to believe it or not, it is working.

Many times, people associate affirmative action with the notion of accepting underqualified students on the sole basis of their race. However,  it was instead started to create a sense of equality in a world where about 72 percent of the U.S. population is white.

In order to give minorities a level playing field with those who have had the upper hand in society for a long time, the environment that affirmative action creates is crucial. Without it, school and workplace racial populations would look very different.

Why we need affirmative action is simple: disparity in standards. Take for example the Florida Board of Education. According to the FBE, about 69 percent of whites meet the reading benchmark while only 53 percent of Latinos and just 38 percent of blacks meet it. With such imbalances in the education system, something must be done to level the playing field.

Affirmative action allows  schools to take this imbalance into account when reviewing a student’s  application so that they are not punished for the disadvantages they have no control over.

Discrimination is still prevalent in society today, as studies show that without affirmative action most universities would have a whopping two percent black student population. It is hard to believe that this percentage reflects the melting pot that America is supposed to be.

We should start questioning whether or not  this is the kind of image we would like to present to the rest of the world: a white dominated domain despite the number of minorities that reside here today. According to Forbes, Carnegie Mellon is one of the most diverse top colleges with 16.5 percent Asian American students and three percent black students.

Reading these numbers is shocking, and it is even more amazing to think that without affirmative action these numbers may be even more skewed than they already are, especially when considering that blacks make up 13.3 percent and Asians about 5.7 percent of the total country’s population, according to the United States Census Bureau. If one of the most diverse private colleges has such amazingly low numbers, most other private schools are abysmal.  

Affirmative action may be painful in the beginning. However,  just like medicine, the idea of affirmative action is a little hard to swallow but the results are beneficial. Although some believe  that such measures to reverse discrimination is not necessary, the numbers tell a different story.

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    Avoiding unfair admissions based on race

     Austin Jia. 2340 out of 2400 on the SAT, a 4.42 GPA, 11 AP classes, captain of the tennis team, part of the New Jersey state orchestra, the debate team and an advocate for an Asian-American student group. When he was rejected from the schools he applied to, Jia could not help but be skeptical about the policies that allowed his classmates with far less on their applications get into those same schools.

    Affirmative action, or race-conscious admissions, is defined by Merriam-Webster as “an active effort to improve the employment or educational opportunities of members of minority groups.” However, being part of a minority group should not warrant special privileges.

    President John F. Kennedy proposed affirmative action in the 1960s. It has since been adapted to fit into many aspects of American education and business. After 50 years, it is time for widescale change.

    Recent news has suggested that this change will not come easily as lawsuits and investigations come to light. Harvard is being sued by Students for Fair Admissions and is under investigation by the U.S. Justice Department for using affirmative action to discriminate against Asian Americans.

    “Your ethnicity should not be something to be used to harm you in life nor help you in life,” said Edward Blum, president of Students for Fair Admissions.

    Many states have recognized this need for change, with eight states making it illegal to consider race in admissions. These states have implemented different policies and strategies in their public colleges to promote diversity without affirmative action.

    Schools such as the University of Washington have begun taking socioeconomic factors into account according to the Chronicle of Higher Education. Some of these factors include family income, overall wealth, single-parent status, neighborhood demographics, parents’ education level and high school performance.

    When Jia applied to colleges that do not take these considerations into account, he had objectively better scores than his classmate, yet the colleges accepted his classmate rather than Jia. This is despite both of them being about the same in terms of income, the only difference being their ethnicities. These situations are easily avoidable when considering socioeconomic factors rather than race.

    California, Texas and Florida use percent plans which guarantee admission to state colleges to the top graduates from each high school in the state. This not only creates geographic diversity, but also gives underfunded high school graduates opportunities to attend a wider selection of colleges.

    Minority percentages in these colleges have increased after eliminating affirmative action. Out of eleven colleges studied by The Century Foundation, nine had exceeded levels of minorities in the year before the ban.

    Instead of looking at race, universities should look at more pertinent socioeconomic factors to avoid unfair admissions. There are already techniques for creating diversity while maintaining a fair, merit-based admissions process. Eight states out of fifty have realized this. Will the rest of America follow suit?

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