Editor’s note: In this Future View, students discuss affirmative action. Next we’ll ask, “What would an end of the war in Ukraine look like?
has said the war won’t end until Crimea is returned to Ukraine. Vladimir Putin
has vowed the complete defeat of Ukraine. How do we get out of this war?” Students should click here to submit opinions of fewer than 250 words before July 18. The best responses will be published that night.
Good Intentions, Bad Results
Affirmative action, at first, was about equality of opportunity. One of President Kennedy’s executive orders required that government contractors’ job postings reach a more diverse pool of job applicants. Otherwise, future hires might reflect older, discriminatory habits. But over time the goal shifted to equality of outcome. Grutter v. Bollinger (2003) affirmed the legality of race-based college admissions.
Grutter created two major problems—academic mismatch and failure to address weak educational backgrounds. Students entering universities with lower-than-average qualifications do worse than in well-matched universities. When affirmative action was banned at the University of California, African-American and Hispanic students who graduated with GPAs above 3.5 increased by 63%, while those graduating with degrees in STEM rose by 51%.
Today, most low-income and minority students are forced into failing public schools based on district lines. Instead of seeking equality of opportunity via educational reforms, such as expanding school choice and improving public schools, affirmative action conceals the underlying problem by pushing ill-prepared students into elite institutions. New damage is inflicted on the supposed beneficiaries in a way that conveniently changes the subject from the underlying educational failures.
Supporters of race-based admissions, rather than admit these errors, will contrive to preserve them in a variety of barely concealed forms.
—Anika Horowitz, University of Wisconsin-Madison, economics
We’ll Find Other Ways
Diversity shouldn’t be just a compelling interest, but rather a critical element in higher education. Postsecondary institutions are the breeding grounds for ideas, innovation and societal advancement. Because schools are most effective when supported by diverse perspectives, I support the use of affirmative action in college admissions.
This doesn’t mean I support a solely racial or ethnic background-based admission process, but rather a holistic approach to admissions, in which race is only one of the factors considered alongside academic achievements, personal experiences and potential. This is one way to counteract systemic disparities that lead to a disadvantage for certain racial or ethnic groups.
In response to the Supreme Court ruling, I urge postsecondary institutions to identify alternative ways to ensure diversity. This could involve focusing more on socioeconomic status or creating more thorough outreach programs for underrepresented communities. I worry that regardless of the methods colleges will implement, they may not fully compensate for the loss of affirmative action policies.
There is a lack and a need for diversity in higher education, and affirmative action is a tool to achieve that balance. Regardless of the Supreme Court’s ruling, colleges will, and should, enact new policies to promote racial diversity.
—Vitaliy Yushvaev, Toronto Metropolitan University, finance
We Should Be Lifting Up the Poor
When I applied for college, I was applying from a home with mold in the walls, holes in the floor and no private college-preparation aid used by my peers. I attend a college with far more students who have parents making hundreds of thousands than students in my own economic class.
Yet when I applied to school, my skin color forced me into a competition with my affluent white peers, rather than adjusting academic standards to what would be expected of a low-born hillbilly. Under affirmative action, the variable most taken into account is skin color. While I understand the purpose of affirmative action, it is a terrible solution to a real problem.
Lowering standards for protected identities does students like me and the beneficiaries of affirmative action a disservice. It does so by paternalistically telling students of color that they couldn’t possibly garner competitive scores on standardized tests or have the résumé to compete with the affluent. A far better solution would be to lift up the academic qualities of poor students of all colors so that a lack of wealth doesn’t prevent talented, impoverished young people from advancing.
Diversity should be a consideration for college admissions, and it was a mistake for the court to rule against it. Despite what many say about the practice being unfair or another example of America’s increasing “wokeness,” it provides benefits for everyone attending a postsecondary institution. For students of color, affirmative action helps to give many talented students (who otherwise could have been left out) a greater chance at attending a prestigious college such as Harvard or Yale.
These institutions are meant to be the envy of the educational world, and they must be filled with discussions that challenge conventional norms and increase critical thinking. Affirmative action not only makes it easier for underprivileged groups to access life-changing opportunities, but also enhances classroom discussion for everyone. Whether the subject is history, politics or the natural sciences, there is always room for a broadening of discussion.
—Marek Brooking, Western University, political science
Although framed as diversity balance, considering race in college admissions is essentially racist. This practice overemphasizes outward appearance while under-emphasizing the typical college qualifications, such as GPA, ACT or SAT scores, community service, extracurriculars and even character. In fact, if a college accepts students with lower results in these categories because of their outward appearance, while declining other students with higher results in the standard categories, the college has committed the judgment it claims to prohibit: racial discrimination.
Of course, diversity on college campuses is good and essential. That is exactly what a college is: a community of people of different backgrounds who discuss ideas, learn and grow. But diversity includes more than race. It includes sex, political beliefs and religious beliefs. Are these colleges who accept and decline students for the sake of diversity also balancing the conservative-liberal realm or the sacred-secular realm?
—Michaela Estruth, Hillsdale College, history and journalism
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