Affirmative action is a touchy subject for some high-schoolers. I have a friend who is a blend of Indian, African American, and the Caribbean. My friends remarked on this, saying that she's guaranteed a spot at the University of Florida. I now feel the need to explore why.
My Asian-American friends worry about whether UF wants Asians. They feel like other ethnicities are receiving benefits that they don’t have, and that Affirmative Action is discriminating against them. This sentiment is being contested in court. In 2014, Students for Fair Admissions filed a lawsuit against Harvard University.
The case recently appeared in the MA federal district court in 2018 and the US Court of Appeals in 2020. The SFFA has petitioned the Supreme Court to be heard and is awaiting approval. An approval that can lead to a case that might dismantle Affirmative Action. So, is Affirmative Action, a practice intended to promote the inclusion of minorities, ethical? To answer this, we must explore the history of Affirmative Action and what it stands for.
Affirmative action was first coined by JFK in 1961 under Executive Order 10925. JFK ordered federal contractors to take “affirmative action” in ensuring applicants for federal jobs are treated equally without regard to race, color, religion, or origin. In 1965, President Johnson signed another executive order further tightening the nondiscrimination policy.
Colleges soon started introducing affirmative action into admissions, and some introduced racial quotas. Seats that are allotted only for non-white applicants. This system was shot down in 1978 in Supreme Court Case: Regents of University of California v. Bakke.
Undergrad Alan Bakke filed a suit after being rejected from the University of California medical school. He reported having better scores than several students accepted in the quota. He claimed being reverse-discriminated on basis of being white. The court concluded that racial quotas are unconstitutional and violate the 14th Amendment.
Yet, the court ruled that UC Davis has the right to determine who will sit in their classroom. And if UC Davis decides that a diverse class is a better learning environment, race can be considered. This decision makes up the framework for modern affirmative action in college admissions. Colleges can consider race. But only as a “tip” for deciding between two equally competent candidates. As reasonable as this sounds, this still opens up many controversies.
What Is It Really?
Affirmative action is defined as: “A Set of practices in an organization seeking to include underrepresented groups based on gender, race, sexuality, or nationality in order to bridge inequalities.” It is usually seen as a means to enforce the 1965 Civil Rights Act intended to end racial discrimination. A law banning discrimination isn't enough to stop it. It's more than likely that these institutions will still exercise prejudice in admissions. In the 1970s, enforcement agencies forced firms to establish racial quotas. These were the earlier forms of affirmative action. Affirmative action means that your institution tried its best to include qualified minorities. There are no racial quotas in institutions now, but the inclusion of minorities is still promoted. However, Affirmative Action is seen as a redress for past exclusion. It is seen as compensation for centuries of discrimination, especially towards African Americans. To this end, Affirmative Action is a means of amendment for our nation’s atrocious history
Pro-Affirmative Action & Anti-Affirmative Action
Advocates for Affirmative Action see it as a redress for past discrimination. Especially towards African-Americans. The inclusion of minorities is one way to pay for the generational damage. Another argument is that Affirmative Action neutralizes unfair advantages. Caucasian males generally have better education and socioeconomic status than other minorities. Meaning that their superior credentials over other minorities are by chance of being white. Affirmative Action can even the playing field for minorities who lack those advantages.
Additionally, banning Affirmative Action reduces diversity.
Laws that prohibit consideration of race in admissions lead to drops in percentages of Black and Hispanic students. Examples are found in the states of Michigan and Washington.
Anti-Affirmative action advocates claim that offers of admission are a social good. Giving those goods based on race is unjust. Furthermore, Affirmative action can benefit individuals least likely harmed by past wrongs and burden a younger generation least responsible for past wrongs. Proponents claim that minorities accepted into top colleges were already in the upper bracket. Affirmative action doesn’t benefit the impoverished minorities incapable of acquiring higher education. And Affirmative Action doesn't punish the ancestors who enforce discrimination
The Asian-American Question
But, when there is too much discussion about the effects of Affirmative Action on African-Americans and whites. There tend to be other ethnic groups whose sentiments aren’t heard.
Asian Americans are stereotyped as being constant gunners for seats in top universities. They are seen as prepared by tiger parents to unfairly fill Ivy League schools. On top of that, they suffer from other stereotypes.
As a result, there is an impression that colleges don't want Asian Americans partly because of the stereotypes, and partly because of the large Asian American demographic in top universities. Despite this, the reality is that admissions only discriminate between applicants of similar achievement. Let's say there are two students with identical SAT scores. One Native American, the other Asian. The college then uses Affirmative Action to justify accepting the Native American student. Not because Native Americans are better, but because they are more underrepresented.
The issue is when colleges don’t recognize the the differences between of Asian ethnicities. Instead, they corral them into one singular “Asian-American” box. Who is to say that a Filipino-American’s experience is the same as a Vietnamese-American’s? Or that the heritage of a Taiwanese American is the same as a Korean American?
Whenever I check the “Asian” box, I feel like I give up the value in my Filipino heritage and become one of many applicants in the same box. Do colleges recognize my unique identity, or do they write it off as the same as millions of others.
This is important because college admissions run the risk of misusing Affirmative Action. Harvard, as part of its admissions, uses “Personal Rating” in evaluating candidates. Here, judges review traits like courage, openness, or leadership. Asian-Americans excelled in the field of academics and extracurriculars but had awful personal ratings. Harvard never contested the disparity. This issue is a significant flaw in Affirmative Action that needs to be addressed.
Affirmative Action must be kept. Ideally, Affirmative Action is only used to decide between equally qualified people. In such cases, a college can do greater good by choosing the candidate whose ethnicity is underrepresented. After all, we don’t live in a perfect world. There is still discrimination and inequality to be eliminated. Barring consideration of race wouldn’t solve any of those issues and would worsen them.
The issue with Affirmative Action is when it malfunctions. And it malfunctions when college admissions cannot recognize the diversity of Asian applicants. They should be able to value the unique heritage of every Asian candidate apart from the box of “Asian” the same way a Cameroon applicant’s heritage should be valued outside the label of “African”.
When this doesn’t happen, college admissions fall victim to racial stereotyping. They are unable to separate the applicant from the warped racial box. Affirmative Action is then used improperly. Immorally assigning traits like introverted, socially inept, uninspiring, and the list goes on. When this happens, the “tip” Affirmative Action is supposed to provide exceeds its weight.
Affirmative Action was meant to help heal the racial inequality and discrimination between African-Americans and whites. However, as our country diversifies in people, ethnicities, and identities, it's important that every race, including Asians, be integrated into the system fairly.