Attending college is a profound moment in a young person’s life. It is a transition period where a student can find out who they are and what kind of adult they want to be. What if I told you that if you wanted to attend a University, your skin color would be a deciding factor on your admission? There has recently been a lawsuit related to this, against Harvard that has accused the university of placing a cap on the number of qualified Asian-American students that it admits.
In 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court issued an important opinion in Abigail Fisher v. Univ. of Texas-Austin. The court wrote that race should not be a defining feature in the admission of a student. Harvard has come out to say that race is not a defining factor in their admissions process, but the data shows otherwise. Students for Fair Admissions previously filed a study of 160,000 Harvard student records that showed admissions officers scored Asian-Americans the lowest on the personal rating metric. The abuse of this system is a perfect strategy by the University to keep a cap on Asian-American admission, while not seeming to be performing racial balancing, which is akin to racial quotas and has been ruled unconstitutional.
Amy Gutmann is a political theorist who argues for affirmative action and even preferential treatment. What if two applicants are equal in terms of academic qualification? It is no doubt beneficial to the student body to have a wide diversity of students from different backgrounds, creating an environment where students and faculty can learn from one another. If two students are on an equal playing field, race can be one of many factors to be put into consideration. The real problem occurs when one person is chosen over another because of race, while the other person was better qualified for the position. This preferential treatment is defended by Gutmann, declaring that it paves the way towards equality of opportunity, breaking down racial stereotypes, and by creating diverse role models.
The problem with Guttman’s argument for preferential treatment is that it is irrational. As the old saying goes, you do not fight fire with fire. You do not fight discrimination with more discrimination. It is illogical to think that providing preferential treatment to one race does no harm to the other. Preferential treatment ironically seems to do great harm to the very people it was intended to benefit. In the influential book, Mismatch , the author explains how students are being placed in extremely competitive environments where they are struggling just to keep up with their peers. The research indicates that this mismatching was responsible for the much higher African-American dropout rate from law schools.
After Proposition 209 in California, minority enrollment dropped at high-end institutions as expected by supporters of affirmative action. However, the enrollment at other UC schools rose, and their graduation rates rose sharply after passage of the proposition. There were indeed more blacks and latinos graduating from these institutions than ever before.
The question remains, how do we create diverse student bodies without discriminating towards one race? It is well known that due to the history of the United States, minorities tend to come from lower income schools and families. Due to this, we should assist students based on socio-economic status, not on race. This way, affirmative action for minorities is still in play, yet there is no racism and favor towards a specific group. There are Asian-American students from poor areas who deserve the special attention but are not getting it. There are affluent African American students who may not need the help to succeed. Doing this wouldn’t make sense if it reduced racial diversity. However, a detailed study on colleges that switched to socio-economic factors, showed that the majority had stable or increased African-American and Hispanic enrollment.
I personally know two different students, of two different races, who I went to community college with. Both had dreams of attending graduate school. One of these students had to work constantly at a restaurant to support her family, while the other had to care for two younger siblings with their father out of the picture. I could tell you their races, but does it really matter? A wise leader in the civil rights movement once said that he hoped his children could live in a nation where they would be judged not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.