What lies behind the remarkable hope for many minority students applying to college is an unfair system that should be abolished.
Affirmative action began percolating when civil rights activists including Whitney Young, Kenneth B. Clark, and Martin Luther King Jr. argued that achieving racial equality is effectively executed when policies reverse the centuries of racism and discrimination that Black people faced head-on. According to them, Black people deserve “special, compensatory measures” in the workplace and in education in order to make up for everything they had to go through from the establishment of America to the very present.
But now, many feel that this system is “reversely discriminating” as unfair passes are handed out just so diversity ratios are met. Now, people are done watching this matter unfold in silence, and for the right reason.
This Monday, Oct. 31, the Supreme Court of the United States held their first oral debate over two affirmative action cases in college admissions— Students for Fair Admissions v. President & Fellows of Harvard College and Students For Fair Admissions v. University of North Carolina. The Supreme Court will decide whether or not to overrule Grutter v. Bollinger, the 2003 case that temporarily allowed for race-conscious college admissions policies until “a race-neutral admissions formula” is devised and the tie-breaking racial preferences between similarly, well-qualified students is put to an end.
The Court has supported the consideration of race in admissions for nearly 50 years to prioritize historically underrepresented groups in college admissions to distribute resources or opportunities–even when the cases against it kept coming.
However, what is different now is the new conservative supermajority— currently, six of the nine Supreme Court judges are conservatives. Nine states, including California, already banned affirmative action in college admissions; and with Chief Justice John Roberts’s open acknowledgment of his preference for race-neutral admissions policies, a sweeping ban on affirmative action may be in store to dramatically change the dynamic and hope in which many minorities depend on in their college application process.
The plaintiffs in the cases against both universities are the Students For Fair Admissions (SFFA), a nonprofit membership group of over 20,000 students who believe “racial classifications and preferences in college admissions are unfair, unnecessary, and unconstitutional” and share the experience of being denied admission for being Asian or white.
The case against Harvard contends that the school’s race-conscious selection process discriminates against Asian American applicants and violates Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, making them less likely to be admitted than similarly qualified candidates who are Black, Hispanic, or white. The case against UNC claims that race, among other admissions criteria, gives excessive preference to applicants of certain underrepresented groups, overstepping the guarantee of equal protection for all people under the 14th Amendment of the US Constitution.
Centrally, because affirmative action brings diversity to college campuses by compensating another equally-qualified applicant’s seat, many conservatives defending the Students for Fair Admissions believe that Affirmative Action is simply unconstitutional to the extent it has gotten to. Many white and Asian applicants are incentivized to conceal their race for the fear of having their accomplishments diminished from the assumption that their race played a role in their capability as a student and as an individual.
At this extent, Harvard lawyer Seth Waxman himself acknowledged that when schools are deciding between two qualified applicants and need to increase the ratio of one minority, “just as being an oboe player in a year in which the Harvard Radcliffe Orchestra needs an oboe player,” the minority student will be admitted into Harvard.
Despite the unfairness, universities and the liberal minority supreme court judges defend affirmative action because they believe that without considering race, you cannot consider the entire person. Justice Katanji Brown Jackson clarified in the debate that “They’re looking at the full person with all of these characteristics. …Race is not causal to their experiences, but it does correlate.”
Certainly campus diversity policies have been one way to aid young people from different ethnic backgrounds to leave their hometown and be offered a multitude of new career opportunities when navigating through individuals in the country along with aiding the school in reflecting the diverse populations of this nation in their campus alone.
But because, as the conservatives expressed on Monday, lifting up a student from a disadvantaged racial group “does not justify a classification that imposes disadvantages upon” white applicants to a college or university, the outcome seems to be that racial diversity and constitutionality are impossibly able to coexist with one another if Affirmative Action stays in place. If the universities lose before the Supreme Court, all consideration of racial diversity in businesses and corporations will be eliminated as well.
In many ways, these hearings display how many conservatives are no longer willing to consider race in admissions because of the manner in which it stops many of them from attending colleges they too are well deserving of attending.
Conservative lawmakers and supreme court judges have considered race-neutral ways of determining who can enter college from the central question of the hearing on why listing an applicant’s race would universally tell you something about every person in that racial group. Other factors admissions officers would consider would include the socio-economic status of their applicants, their experiences, where they grew up, and how they spent their four years in high school.
With this perspective, does race entirely affect a person’s ability to work as hard as they can and do the very best with whatever it is they have throughout their years in high school? And since affirmative action has been in place for half a century, many of the generations that needed the integration into middle-class society have already established themselves into a position in which their children are not as disadvantaged and affirmative action is no longer necessary. Stating socio-economic status can still explain how resourceful and adamant a student was in the activities and grades they were able to partake in during their four years of high school.
While Justice Jackson claimed, “Race can provide this context for their experiences”, every other valuable character trait considered in admissions like determination, self-discipline, and commitment to learning are universal traits every and any student can display–no matter their race. Making generalizations is dangerous as, for example, it certainly is possible for a Chinese family in the 21st century to still be making under 80,000 a year. After all, there are questions on college applications on atypical leadership positions that rather display leadership in a proactive way like taking on a job, taking care of siblings, and so on. On top of this, there are merit-based, race-based, and need-based scholarships from outside sources, whether affirmative action is in place at the nation’s top universities or not. The SAT is test-optional or not required at most U.S. universities anymore.
It is understandable to remove affirmative action and make admissions colorblind if it is still set on accepting students they believe will be a good fit in their school, not looking at quantity, but if the same effort was poured into everything they did, no matter how much or how little.
Affirmative action benefits students who might have been quickly dismissed for not having the same accolades as white students with more money–but if the socioeconomic status is considered in the admissions process instead, students will not be generalized by their race and instead, their ability to work with whatever they had displays how well of a fit they will be at that university.