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Saturday, May 25, 2024

Action Project: Affirmative action in higher ed reinforces racial discrimination

The tireless and honorable efforts of Doctor Martin Luther King Jr. to promote racial equality in the United States can be summed up with one of his most famous quotes: “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” This quote should summarize where we should be in the United States today regarding race; however, a policy meant to move us in Dr. King’s direction in fact hinders us. This policy is affirmative action in higher education.

In order to make sure we don’t offend anyone, we would like to first and foremost put it out there that we applaud and understand the goals of affirmative action as a concept. However, it has become glaringly obvious that affirmative action is not the correct way to promote diversity in a university setting. Affirmative action is used to promote diversity in higher education by creating special opportunities for certain groups who suffer from discrimination. This is used in universities by setting certain percentages or quotas to be filled by members of certain racial or ethnic groups in each admissions cycle. Though it is an honorable goal to promote diversity in a setting of higher education, affirmative action has instead of equalizing the admission process, made it inherently unfair as a whole.

To begin with, affirmative action is dehumanizing and reinforces racism. By being required to check a box of your racial status, “Caucasian,” “African American” or “Pacific Islander,” you become a statistic, a number, your character is sorted into a category that makes you more easily sortable in the admissions process. For instance, instead of your decision for admission being based solely on your qualifications, your experiences or the trials you as a person have had to go through that have an opportunity to be discussed in your admissions essay, you are required to check a box which generalizes you. By allowing this practice, instead of hindering racism and promoting diversity, we are actually reinforcing the separatism that racism embodies.

Why are we still at the point where we are defined by our race, not by our character, especially in an institution said to be so enlightening as higher education. This also reinforces racism by belittling the students who are of different races, but got in because of their qualifications rather than affirmative action. It is not fair that this student must defend their qualifications and rights to be at an elite university primarily because of the harmful assumption that affirmative action was the main reason for their admission.

Affirmative action can also create unfair situations of denying qualified students and instead choosing a lesser-qualified student simply based on fulfilling a racial quota. How can a university claim to uphold certain academic standards and yet be willing to bend the rules for the purposes of affirmative action? Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, himself an African American, has maintained a strong anti-affirmative action stance because of the belittling of college degrees based on relaxed academic standards. In his memoir, “My Grandfather’s Son,” Thomas says, “I learned the hard way that a law degree from Yale meant one thing for white graduates and another for blacks, no matter how much anyone denied it.” He continues by saying, “I’d graduated from one of America’s top law schools, but racial preference had robbed my achievement of its true value.” In addition to not being fair towards qualified students of majority races, it is unfair to the accepted students who may not be academically prepared to succeed at the university level. While not the norm, many of the students who benefit from affirmative action could perhaps be set up for failure and have a real danger of dropping out of school all-the-while compiling the huge debt from higher education tuition. Admissions to an institution of higher learning should be simply about qualifications.

We understand the goal of promoting diversity in higher education is important; however, we believe the problem of lack of diversity in education starts with problems at lower levels of education. We need to address the problem at its root cause and we can start with public education reform. The problem is people in more privileged areas have access to a far-superior level of public education, whereas children in under-privileged neighborhoods are not given access to this same level of quality education. Instead of focusing on policies such as affirmative action in higher education, perhaps it would be more beneficial to focus on creating circumstances in which kids in underprivileged neighborhoods are guaranteed access to the same levels of education as those in privileged neighborhoods. By doing this, we are creating a level playing field for kids of all races, ensuring each child has the opportunity to get an education which fully prepares them for the difficulties of higher education. This also takes race out of the question. Access to public education would be about kids of every race, not about filling a quota in a university admissions process based solely on race.

Unfortunately, our society still views an individual’s race through an uninformed and jaded lens. The policy of affirmative action in higher education only heightens the scope of this lens. By ending the use of affirmative action education, we can take a vital step toward truly judging a person based on the content of their character and not the color of their skin.

Haleigh is a senior and Ryan is a junior. Both students are majoring in political science. Please send all feedback to or

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