Affirmative Action

On Tuesday, the Supreme Court decided to continue Michigan’s decision in ending affirmative action at its public universities. It was a 6-2 ruling, however the justices were very strong in their opposing opinions- suggesting that there is still uncertainty lingering over the topic. The ruling means that racial preferences will not soon return to the University of Michigan- or any other public university in states that have chosen to end affirmative action as well.

Eight states have ended affirmative action since 1996. However, affirmative action is still used by many selective universities to promote diversity within the student body. Some Ivy League schools, the US military academies, and flagship public institutions such as the University of Texas at Austin and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

On Tuesday, the fact that the opinions of the justices were so far left and right brings up the idea that the issue of affirmative action may come back to the table in the future. The closest consensus were spearheaded by the opposing opinions of Justice Kennedy, Chief Justice John Roberts, and Justice Samuel Alito. Justice Kennedy held a more moderate opinion and acknowledged that the US has had a painful history of racial exclusion, which indeed still serves many repercussions that can still be seen today. It was interesting to read his opinion- “The electorate’s instruction to governmental entities not to embark upon the course of race-defined and race-based preferences was adopted, we must assume, because the voters deemed a preference system to be unwise on account of what voters may deem its latent potential to become itself a source of the very resentments and hostilities based on race that this nation seeks to put behind it”.

I understand either part of the situation. I understand that one side claims that affirmative action is like fighting fire with more fire. The way to end racism is not with more racism. I also understand the side of the argument that claims that not all opportunities in America are created equal- structural differences are the ones that we were born with and have no control over, but yet account for how we live our lives. Having the privilege of attending a competitive high school, I was given very good guidance from my high school counselor who also helped lead me through the college application process. The school also provided help with standardized tests. On the other hand, my dad teaches at an inner-city high school in Detroit. The differences are vast. The students are not provided with very good high school counselors nor do their counselors even have expectations that they will attend college. Frequently I would hear my dad complain that the school hadn’t provided his classes with enough books, so many times it wasn’t even feasible for him to assign homework. Differences like these definitely add up over a four year span, and take a toll on the student when the time comes to apply to college. But honestly… I feel that socio-economic status and high school location play a more dominant role in the affirmative action argument than race. Solely focusing on race can create the scenario in which an exceptional non-minority student attending a predominantly minority-populated institution would be overlooked on college applications. I believe the affirmative action situation will later be refined… it seems inevitable. I think differences like these should be accounted for in some shape or form because the fact that I was sent to a high quality high school was inherently for reasons outside of my control. That is of course not to say that students who work hard and come from privileged backgrounds do not deserve to be admitted to certain universities. At the end of the day, the student (“privileged” or “unprivileged”) needs to show that he or she exhibited an exceptional work ethic in comparison to their peers.

One thought on “Affirmative Action

  1. dslavin

    I’m very much in agreement with your argument. Affirmative action is a contentious issue, and I also acknowledge both sides of the coin, but I don’t think anyone can deny the influence environment and socio-economic status has on a person’s future. I feel that the fire with fire argument is a based too much in ideology rather than facts. People have different definitions of the word racism, but I find it difficult to put affirmative action under the same definition or even in the same category. I think that a demonstration of excellence in the environment you are in (i.e. academic excellence compared to the other students you are learning with) is a better indicator for success in the future than grades or test scores alone.

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