In 2013, the Supreme Court case of Fisher v. University of Texas brought into question the policy of affirmative action as it applied to admissions into college. In this case, the court decided to ultimately reinforce the precedent established in Grutter v. Bollinger with race serving as one consideration in reviewing a student's application. It is suffice to say the dialogue over affirmative action, in regards to college admissions, will not be ending anytime soon.
It is important to analyze the intent and tangible impact of affirmative action to determine what it ultimately amounts to: if the common oppositional perceptions surrounding it are valid and in what ways the policy could be improved.
In the form affirmative action currently takes, it amounts to having race as a part of a holistic approach towards college applicants. In other words, minority races that have faced historic oppression have race taken into account in the admission process in addition to the other factors under consideration, such as their GPA. The thought process behind such a consideration is that, since these groups have and continue to suffer under such oppressive hierarchies, this can hinder other credentials the individual possesses, like their GPA. The overall result of affirmative action has been an increase in minority representation at college campuses.
According to the Department of Education, minority representation at colleges have increased 12 percent from 1975 to 2012. So, in terms of increasing minority representation at college campuses as a means of circumventing racial hierarchy, this current holistic approach to affirmative action seems to be aligned with its intent of increasing the mass of minorities in the student body.
Nevertheless, there is a great deal of opposition to affirmative action. Ignoring the faulty claim of quotas, which are illegal under U.S. law, two of the more popular arguments against affirmative action entail ‘reverse racism’ and the undermining of achievements for individuals in racial minorities. Ignoring my disdain for the term ‘reverse racism,’ as it reduces racism to a matter of simplistic short-term prejudice (as opposed to the long-standing social hierarchy it really is), saying that ‘reverse racism’ is at play in affirmative action is to make the claim that college admissions overwhelmingly ignores white applicants in favor of black applicants. This is simply ludicrous.
Race and gender only form two factors within a wide array of considerations colleges make in the admission process, including, but not limited to GPA, leadership and community service. Not only that, but a lot of those other factors are dependent upon the quality of the community one lives in, which often falls along racial lines.
According to a study published in the Stanford Graduate School of Education, whites tend to live in better neighborhoods than minorities — even when taking economic status into account. Better communities tend to have more resources to put into such things as schools, leadership opportunities and other factors involved in college admissions. Due to this reality, it is not fair to make a claim of discrimination against whites in regards to college admissions.
Regarding the idea of affirmative action undermining the achievements of minorities —and therefore leading toward hostility between racial groups — again, this claim does not hold any credibility. Whites have reaped many of the rewards of racial hierarchy, (i.e. housing in the aftermath of WWII), so I do not think minorities receiving a minor consideration in order to circumvent racial hierarchy will result in loss of self-esteem. And while I do acknowledge the disdain that perception around affirmative action can procreate, this has more to do with the faulty reactionary rhetoric around the policy as opposed to the policy itself.
One concession I will make to the opposition is a point made in Dr. Thomas Sowell’s book “Affirmative Action around the World: An Empirical Study”: I disagree with the doctor’s book due to how it skewed those in lower economic classes. Coming at this issue from a libertarian socialist data and his conservative outlook, I do concede, albeit, with some reservations, that current affirmative action policies tend to disproportionately target minorities in higher economic classes as opposed perspective, unlike Dr. Sowell, I see merely a need for affirmative action policies to be more intersectional and adopt class consideration in addition to the race and gender factors already present.
More importantly though, I am concerned with the perspective, as exemplified in the Supreme Court’s stress on time limits in the Grutter decision, that Affirmative Action will solve racial hierarchy. As shown by the impact of AA, as well as the stigma attached to it, the policy is only able to circumvent racial hierarchy, not demolish it. It provides a rope to climb the wall, not a bulldozer to smash it. To do that requires far more radical policies.