Affirmative Action

Proponents of affirmative action argue that it promotes diversity on college campuses. (Photo courtesy of Gineen Abuali)

On Monday, Oct. 15, 2018, in a Boston district court, the Students for Fair Admissions (S.F.F.A.), a nonprofit group, argued that Harvard University uses unfair practices in its admission of college students. S.F.F.A. specifically claim that Harvard is unfair towards Asian-American students by holding Asian-American applicants to higher standards than other applicants because Harvard wants to admit other racial groups.

According to their website, “Students for Fair Admissions is a nonprofit membership group of more than 20,000 students, parents, and others who believe that racial classifications and preferences in college admissions are unfair, unnecessary, and unconstitutional.”

Ultimately they say, “A student’s race and ethnicity should not be factors that either harm or help that student to gain admission to a competitive university.”

S.F.F.A allege that Harvard puts an unfair quota on the number of Asian-American students it accepts each year. Furthermore, they argue that Harvard favors whites and non-Asian minority groups in its admission process.

Harvard’s opponents believe that affirmative action is to blame for Harvard’s discriminatory quota. Affirmative action refers to a policy that was established by President John F. Kennedy with the objective of removing unlawful discrimination against minorities and giving them equal access to opportunities in the workforce and education.

Today, in the college admissions process, affirmative action has developed in such a way that some colleges have implemented policies that give an advantage to minority groups that are underrepresented.

Affirmative action has been a controversial issue in the American judicial system for years. The Supreme Court set the precedent for affirmative action in education with the 1978 case of University of California v. Bakke. In this case, the Supreme Court ruled that colleges can use race as one of their admissions factors, and therefore, it upheld affirmative action; however; they also ruled that colleges cannot set racial quotas, which happens to be what S.F.F.A accuses Harvard of doing.

Students at Saint Peter’s University are divided over affirmative action.

Adjeilyne Akrong, a sophomore at Saint Peter’s, says, “race helps create diversity in school and provides a leg-up to some students who need it. Universities concerning themselves with race may be passing up equally or more talented students for the sake of reaching a goal.”

However, Akrong remembers her own experience as a minority saying, “minority students don’t always get the education they deserve because of the education system they come from. Being that I’m African American, I wouldn’t have gotten the education that I deserve if I came from a bad education system.”

An Asian-American student at Saint Peter’s, who has chosen to stay anonymous, explains, “I know that some schools they kind of look at how good the person is, but at the same time, they see that this person is Asian or Hispanic, they’re like oh we have a certain amount of Hispanics that are already good in the system. So then, that eliminates these other students.”

Her college experience has taught her a lot, she explains, “I’ve read a few articles that medical school is kind of the same thing. There shouldn’t be a certain number or quota of who gets in just so that they can call themselves diverse.” For her, this stems from a bigger issue, “Students that are intelligent but grow up without any connections in Jersey City, where I grew up in, or in less advantaged places, they don’t have dinners with CEOs or presidents, so I think that also plays a role.”

It is also interesting that S.F.F.A. and their president, Edward Blum, a white male, helped take the most recent affirmative action case to the Supreme Court, Fisher v. University of Texas (2016).

In this case, Blum and S.F.F.A. backed Abigail Fisher, a white female, in her claim that she was unfairly denied admission to the University of Texas because of affirmative action. The Supreme Court once again upheld affirmative action, but the Court said that colleges using race in their admissions must show that their admissions are designed in a way to achieve diversity.

The Supreme Court ruling in Fisher’s case was very close. If the case against Harvard is appealed all the way to the Supreme Court after it is decided (which many expect it to be), it is highly possible that affirmative action will most likely be ruled as unconstitutional. With Brett Kavanaugh’s recent ascension to the Supreme Court, the conservative majority on the Supreme Court is expected to rule in favor of S.F.F.A, a conservative group.

Proponents of affirmative action, like Harvard (and the other 7 Ivy League colleges which have all shown their support for Harvard), claim that it helps create diversity on college campuses, and they say it is instrumental in providing minorities’ equal access to higher education.

Harvard also claims that it takes a holistic approach when reviewing applicants and that race is not any more important than the other factors it takes into consideration, such as academics. Furthermore, Harvard says that race can never hurt an applicant’s chance of gaining admission; it can only help the applicant.

Opponents, however, argue that affirmative action is unfair to students who have the academic merit to gain admission to a college, but are rejected because they are not the right race. Therefore, they seek to remove all questions of race from college applications.

Michael Verile, a senior at Saint Peter’s, understands both sides of the argument. He says, “College is about grades so one’s high school grades should speak for itself. Now some areas of the nation are less educated than others, and that is race based to some extent.”

Ultimately, Verile concludes, “I think university admissions should take race into consideration to some degree, but ones merit should be the sole fact in getting into a school or degree program.”

It is unclear how the conclusion of this case will play out in the current trial or how long it will take to reach the Supreme Court if it is appealed, but one thing is clear: this case directly impacts all students in the United States regardless of what race they may be. Furthermore, the conclusion of this case will decide the future of college admissions in America as it continues to unravel the often mysterious world of college admissions.

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