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Racism in college admissions
By Gabriela Dawson
Imagine your dream college. You have the qualifications to get in. You work hard, balancing school, extracurriculars, sports, family, and friends. Finally, you get a letter. You get a letter addressed to you from your dream school. Eagerly ripping the envelope open, tearing the paper. Ripping out the piece of paper, as fast as you can, but then getting a rush of fear. Your mom, dad, sister, and brother are surrounding you. Opening the letter was the longest time in your life. Finally, you start to unfold the message, and you read the words “We regret to inform you that we are not able to offer you admission for this upcoming Fall quarter.” This is devastating. You show no emotions, except sadness, just sadness, and disappointment. The one college you have wanted to go to for years just rejected you. Why? They declined you because they wanted to make the campus a diverse place. They already had enough people of your race. You never thought that the reason you didn’t get into your favorite college was that you were of a particular race. Race is something you can not change, something that you were born with. Well, this happens to teenagers every year, and it isn’t against US law.
Academic affirmative action is a policy which favors minorities during the admissions process to promote campus diversity. Schools are not allowed to use racial preferences only to help minority groups. The only reason they are allowed to use race preference in admissions is to promote diversity. When going through applications, schools can’t give ‘bonus points’ to students of a preferred minority. Someone’s race must be used as a ‘plus factor’ not as the main reason for their acceptance. The Equal-Protection Clause states, “No person in the United States shall, on the ground of race, color, or national origin, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program of activity receiving Federal financial assistance,” including schooling. Multiple states have banned affirmative action, including California, Washington, Michigan, Nebraska, Arizona, and Oklahoma.
Harvard has recently been sued for illegal discrimination against Asian-Americans. The case was filed by Students for Fair Admissions in 2014, and the case is still going. The Supreme Court has approved similar lawsuits to Harvard’s, including the University of Texas. Harvard’s Office of Institutional Research found that “Asians were less likely to be admitted than whites with the same qualifications.” Asian applicants do better than white applicants in the academic and extracurriculars but lag in the “personal” category. About one-fifth of Harvard students are Asian, but if spaces were given out only based on academic credentials, the number would be a lot higher. However, keep in mind that in 2015 Asian-Americans only made up about 6 percent of the US population. Twenty-three percent of Havard’s most recent admitted class were Asian-American. Students for Fair Admissions have argued that Harvard has been using a racial quota system which manipulates the admission process to achieve the same ethnic balance year after year. Also, affirmative action has been used to meet their quotas.
The University of North Carolina (UNC) lawsuit was filed by the same group that filed the Harvard Lawsuit, Students for Fair Admissions. UNC has been accused of showing favoritism towards certain groups while Havard is under suspicion of doing the opposite towards a group: discriminating against them. UNC is also being sued for violating the Equal-Protection Clause and the Civil Rights Law. The Civil Rights Law indicates that individuals should be treated as equal under the law.
Eighty-two percent of students admitted to UNC must be state residents. As a result, only 18 percent of students can be out of state applicants. According to World Population Review, 69.2 percent of North Carolina’s population is white, 21.5 percent is black, 3 percent is Asian, 2.4 percent is two or more races/mixed race, 1.2 percent is Native American, and 3 percent is other races.
To increase its campus diversity, UNC has been using affirmative action. The 18 percent of non-North Carolina residents who enroll need to be predominantly non-white given most North Carolina residents who enroll are bound to be white given the statistics of the state. UNC’s entering class of fall 2018 was 66 percent white, 18 percent Asian, 11 percent black, 9 percent Hispanic, 3 percent Native American and 0.3 percent Pacific Islander. Without affirmative action, the odds of having a larger white population would be high.
Academic Affirmative Action: Is It Right Or Wrong?
Sometime soon, the US Supreme Court will address one or both of these cases. Our society will debate once again whether affirmative action or “reverse discrimination” (as opponents call it) is right or wrong. Affirmative action is a controversy centered on justice. Proponents will argue that affirmative action helps diminish past and current racial inequality. Society has a moral obligation to correct historical racial discrimination. On the other hand, opponents will counter everyone should be treated equally regardless of benefits and burdens society has given them. Is it fair that a student who is more qualified and working harder be passed over strictly because of their race? Affirmative action weakens the idea of rewarding students based on hard work, also known as a meritocracy.
Another consideration is whether is it fair to place a student of affirmative action in an environment they may not survive and drop out from or be less successful in (versus putting that student in a surrounding that matches their academic performance). The Heritage Foundation, an educational research institution in Washington D.C., stated “One of the unintended consequences of these affirmative action policies: students admitted based on their skin color, rather than their merit, may end up “mismatched” with their school, which leads to low grades and high drop-out rates.” For example, in a UCLA study of top law schools, more than 50 percent of African-American law students who were admitted based on affirmative action were in the bottom 10 percent of their class and had twice the drop-out rate of white peers – 19.3 percent versus 8.2 percent. A special report by University of San Diego law professor and U.S. Civil Rights Commissioner, Gail Heriot, “highlights the problem of academic ‘mismatch’ . . . When a student’s entering credentials put them at the bottom of the class, it should come as no surprise when he or she switches to an easier major, drops out, or fails out. It’s become increasingly clear that affirmative action is doing more harm than good to the very people it is intended to help.” As a result, the report indicates our society has fewer minorities in STEM fields and higher earning careers.
Things to Think About
Affirmative action has been used by colleges to increase campus diversity and help correct society’s historic racism and discrimination. But then again, this policy does not end discrimination. It just reverses the group it favors. Creating a world of equality may take years, centuries, or may not be possible at all. Will we ever have an equal society? Do we need affirmative action to achieve it and if so for how long?