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The Daily Cardinal Est. 1892
Monday, January 30, 2023
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"Supreme Court" by Mark Fischer

Affirmative action: An important privilege

Most American universities do not have the privilege to use affirmative action because they do not need to reject many students to meet their target class size. These schools admit most of the students who apply so their student body diversity is reflective of their immediate geography. 

The University of Wisconsin-Madison is located in a majority white city within a majority white state. Without emphasis placed on race in admissions, our university class would contain even more high income, white individuals. 

Throughout much of our history, people of color were forced into low-paying jobs with low quality educational opportunities, allowing power to remain in the hands of white people. The prosperity gap in our country was, and in many ways still is, also a racial gap. 

A families' financial capabilities determine the kind of school their children have the opportunity to attend and the resources they can devote to school work and college applications. For this reason, the “merit” based approach to college admissions is based on the false assumption that all students have the same opportunity to develop and display their talent in an admissions file.

To open educational opportunities for less advantaged citizens, disadvantaged people of color need to be given equitable access to the quality higher education offered at top universities, like UW-Madison, so they are more likely to succeed in higher paying jobs.

For low-income Wisconsinites — many of whom are people of color — UW-Madison may be their only shot. The only elite school for which they submit an application. 

Milwaukee is the largest city in Wisconsin and is one of the most culturally diverse places in the United States. It is also the city in Wisconsin with the most poverty, ranking among America’s poorest. How can UW-Madison claim to serve the “Wisconsin Idea” and not have anything in place to change the reality that there still seems to be more people from small suburbs at our university than the city of Milwaukee?

When asked for comment on how they handle race in admissions, the UW-Madison admissions office replied: “No student’s admission decision is based on any single factor, including race or ethnicity,” and that the process includes many other factors including “courses and grades, standardized test scores (when applicable), recommendations, extracurricular activities, leadership … written statements ... and first generation status.” 

Nevertheless, race is deeply embedded in the way students perform in the other categories on this list. Race needs to be taken into account because of what it says about the context surrounding many students' applications. 

Ending affirmative action would jeopardize the quality of the education UW-Madison provides students. Like many on campus, I came to college to try to increase my understanding of the complexities of the world. This would not be possible if I was only surrounded by people with similar backgrounds to myself. 

For example, the first student I met when I arrived on campus was from Kazakhstan. I had never met anyone from Kazakhstan nor did I really register that it was a country that existed before this encounter. In a similar regard, my Colombian Spanish teacher taught me about Colombian protests and governmental restrictions on free speech and education.

These conversations were critical in exposing me to the world as it truly is beyond my American centric perspective. Without a diverse student population many students would leave college without a grasp of the many issues facing our world or the fascinating cultures within it. 

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Regardless of major or desired profession, students are going to have to be able to work with people who have very different experiences than them in order to be successful. 

Students for Fair Admissions, an organization built by Edward Blum for the purpose of taking down affirmative action, is using the Supreme Court’s conservative majority as an opportunity. They appealed the cases Students for Fair Admissions Vs. President and Fellows of Harvard College and Students for Fair Admissions Vs. University of North Carolina through the appellate courts and the Supreme Court has agreed to hear them both consecutively in 2023. 

The resignation of Stephan Breyer, a Supreme Court justice who supported affirmative action, is likely not to change the anticipated vote against affirmative action. Even with the new judge, who will most likely support affirmative action as a Democrat chosen by the Biden administration, there will still be a six to three conservative majority on the supreme court.

The fact that Mr. Blum is likely to pull this stunt off underscores the need for Supreme Court reform. No passionate crusader should be able to dictate how universities do their admissions in service of his conservative beliefs when he does not understand their applicant pools or educational objectives. 

In order to maintain public confidence that the court is hearing multiple sides of an issue instead of just pursuing a political aim, the Supreme Court needs reform that forces it to be more bipartisan.

Affirmative action is often advertised in popular culture as if it is the solution to poverty. While affirmative action is better than nothing, this is far from reality and postulating it as such deflects attention from the issues that lead to the unfair power distribution in our society. 

If we care about ending the cycle of poverty we should invest more in public education and make higher education more affordable. The Office of Admissions and Recruitment should do more to encourage kids in lower income, racially diverse cities such as Milwaukee to apply.

Division I recruits have their travel expenses paid for when they come to tour our university. Why can’t we do this for other students who have a lot to contribute to the reputation of our university, but may not otherwise have the resources to attend? 

I hope that one day we will live in a society where we can afford to have a merit based system for college admissions. In order to achieve this we need to recognize the limits of the affirmative action debate. Unfortunately, right now, affirmative action is our only real option. 

Natalie (Nat) Suri is a freshman currently undecided about her major. Do you think affirmative action is at risk by the supreme court's conservtive majority? Send all comments to opinion@dailycardinal.com.

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