“I am a product of affirmative action … I am Puerto Rican, born and raised in the South Bronx. My test scores were not comparable to my colleagues at Princeton and Yale,” associate justice of the Supreme Court Sonia Sotomayor once said, according to CNN. “But, if we had gone through the traditional numbers route of those institutions, it would have been highly questionable whether I would have been accepted with my academic achievement in high school.”
At its simplest, affirmative action is the consideration of race in a school or work setting. In college admissions, affirmative action often gives the benefit to minorities — for instance, by offering a more lenient standard of admissions for certain races that are underrepresented on college campuses. And indeed, SAT results are not objective, with a strong positive correlation to family income.
A wealthier family can afford to hire private tutors and enroll their kids in expensive summer programs, whereas a poorer family would not be able to provide their kids with such opportunities. Therefore, it is vital to discern that biases in college admission are correlated with family income, instead of race.
For institutions and universities, affirmative action helps them reach diversity, or the state of including people from all social, racial, and gender backgrounds. While there is a definite educational benefit of having a diverse class of students, this is actually not the main goal for universities that enforce affirmative action policies. I would argue that racial and gender diversity is an important aspect in publicity and looking good, helping colleges appeal to a wider range of students, and leading to a higher application rate and a lower acceptance rate. As for the minorities applying, affirmative action improves the chances of getting selected by remarkable lengths.
Sotomayor isn’t the only one who was accepted into elite schools based on her race, according to the Princeton University Press, a study found that African Americans received an average bonus of 230 points on the SAT, while Asian Americans received a penalty of 50 points (out of 1600 points). This means that, in order to be judged on an even playing field, the Asian American student would need to have a score 280 points higher than the African American student. In addition, Asian students are consistently marked down on personal scores, areas that are defined by subjective factors such as kindness, courage, and hard work.
This is known as reverse discrimination or the favoring of some groups that were previously discriminated against. The problem with the college admissions system is that it results in a zero-sum game: when one group benefits, the other groups are disadvantaged.
According to Lorena Gonzalez, a California State Assemblywoman who also benefitted from affirmative action, minority groups should be given special benefits because they are under-represented in colleges, a statement that both sides of the debate should agree on. This could consist of making educational programs more accessible or giving more financial funding to encourage lower-income families to value higher education. However, she continues to say, “…if it weren’t for the ability to have a second look because diversity mattered, because my story mattered to the admissions officer, I would have never been able to attend Stanford.”
Her personal experience is deeply troubling because she stated the reason she was able to attend Stanford, an elite school, was due to her Hispanic genes instead of her intelligence and hard work. However, the objective of higher education is to provide further support and guidance for future generations in their contributions to society, and the finite number of seats in the class should be allotted to the most competent students first, regardless of race or social status or financial situation. After all, college should prepare the future generation to benefit society, and giving the most capable students this opportunity to learn and achieve is the best way to do this.
Even though it may seem like the nice thing to do, and perhaps even the ethical thing to do, admitting students due in whole or in part of their race is clearly racism to the people who were cut out. Those who succeed in life aren’t those who were chosen based on the generous principle of diversity but rather based on their individual talent and perseverance. For example, the NFL does not follow the principle of diversity to Asian football players, resulting in a distorted racial breakdown of 69.7% African Americans, 27.4% white, and only 1.9% Asian Americans. No one protests against this ratio because we understand that each and every player had to be rigorously selected based on skill in order to win honor for their team, and that kindness from their coaches would not result in maximum success.
Didn’t Martin Luther King Jr. cry out his dream: “I look to a day when people will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character”? Hasn’t America vowed to rid racism and protect its citizens with a shield that covers every citizen — Black, white, Indian, Hispanic, and Asian?
And yet, while Affirmative Action attempts to ensure the equality of outcome, which fluctuates based on race, what we really should be doing is ensuring the equality of opportunity. In the end, antiracism racism is still racism.