As is the case with many topics that include race and racial discrimination, the debate about affirmative action policies has been swamped by misleading and sometimes inaccurate claims. One of the most common misconceptions is that colleges and universities have racial quotas in which a certain percentage of each racial group must be admitted, when in fact, courts already have ruled that such quotas are illegal. The simple fact is that the admissions process is inherently subjective in which colleges consider factors in addition to a student’s GPA and test scores.
And why shouldn’t they? Students readily will say that they are more than their grades, and a person’s race certainly is one aspect of who they are. Furthermore, there is indisputable statistical and anecdotal evidence that there is racial inequality and discrimination in the United States, and colleges can and should serve as institutions that strive for diversity and tolerance.
Most recently, the debate over affirmative action has concerned Harvard University, as there is a lawsuit against the Ivy League school brought by a group of Asian-American students who argue that Harvard restricts the number of Asian-American students it accepts. Harvard has responded that its admissions procedures are based on a variety of factors and that the plaintiffs have failed to demonstrate that even one Asian-American student “had been rejected on the basis of his or her race or ethnicity.”
Unsurprisingly, this high-profile case has reignited a flurry of discussion over affirmative action. Despite the fact that polls from within the past decade have determined that affirmative action is not generally favored among American citizens, the practice still has a place in today’s college admissions process. Among the benefits are increased diversity, a more equal playing field, and the fact that affirmative action policies help minorities that tend to be more economically disadvantaged. Until racism in our society is eradicated or significantly less prevalent, affirmative action is necessary so that historically excluded groups are not deprived of equal opportunities.
Opponents of affirmative action policies argue that college admissions should be based solely on merit. Admissions representatives should take into consideration a student’s grades, scores, extracurricular activities and leadership roles, and writing supplements. Acceptance to a college or university should be about what the student has accomplished in school.
But why do opponents of affirmative action fixate on race as a consideration and do not show the same passion for other non-academic considerations? Take so-called “legacy” admissions, for example. Whether or not a student has “legacy” at a particular college or university depends on if they had a parent or grandparent attend said school. In terms of admissions, Harvard and other elite institutions proclaim that they utilize this information in the same way they consider race or other characteristics a student possesses: to facilitate a diverse campus and alumni community. As of November 2018, legacy students make up about 14 percent of the student population at Harvard. An analysis completed by the organization suing Harvard found that legacy applicants, between the years of 2009 and 2015, were accepted at a rate of almost 34 percent. According to the report, that number is more than five times higher than the rate of acceptance for non-legacy students, which was just 5.9 percent.
Like any programs, ones of affirmative action must be done smartly and with care. Some approaches that deserves praise include those in Texas in which the top 10-percent of the graduating senior class are automatically admitted to state institutions. Such a policy encourages racial, socio-economical, and geographical diversity without even necessarily knowing the race of the applicants.
Affirmative action policies have been debated since their origin over 50 years ago. Though there are some concerns about the practice, it continues to be necessary for today’s college admissions process. With affirmative action policies in place, college campuses continue to become more diverse and enriching for all students attending.