Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Race-Based Affirmative Action: Does it Really Promote Equality?

From personal experience, I know that affirmative action has always been a hotly contested subject on college campuses.  Is it fair?  Should colleges take race into account when making admissions decisions?  Does it really promote true equality?  Is this policy unfair to qualified non-minority students?  Today, the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case during its term that starts in October.  This will be the first time affirmative action has been revisited since the 2003 University of Michigan case.

First, of all, here is a little background on affirmative action.

1.  The Supreme Court first approved affirmative action in 1978 in the Regents of the University of California v. Bakke case.

2. In 2003, Sandra Day O'Connor wrote the court's decision in Grutter v. Bollinger reaffirming this practice (involving the admissions policy of the University of Michigan).  The reasoning behind this was that a diverse student body improves the education of all students.  O'Connor mentioned that if in 25 years, racial prejudice was no longer as prevalent, affirmative action would no longer be necessary.  Of course, not all the justices agreed with this statement.

3.  (Side note) Here in California, the state outlawed "preferential treatment" by race in 1996 with Proposition 209, so the ruling in Texas will not really affect us here.  A few other states have adopted similar laws.

4.  In 2005, Justice O'Connor (a well-known moderate) retired and George W. Bush replaced her with Justice Alito (pretty conservative and not a big fan of affirmative action).  Also, Elena Kagan, the newest justice, (pretty liberal) has announced that she will recuse herself since she worked on this case in a lower court when she was solicitor general.

5.  The Texas case that the Supreme Court has decided to deal with this October started in 2008 when Fisher, a white applicant, was denied admission to the University of Texas at Austin.  Her record was not good enough for admission, but she still felt as if she was turned down because she was white.

What has affirmative action in college admissions accomplished? 

Well, since the University of Texas has adopted this policy, the number of African-American students matriculating has nearly doubled!  

The number of Latino graduates has increased by almost 50 percent.

The University of Texas is ranked sixth nationwide in undergraduate degrees awarded to minors.

If the Supreme Court ultimately chooses to take race completely out of the equation in college admissions, this will affect students nationwide.  Will this help or will it hurt?

What does this mean for President Obama in the upcoming election?

The presidential election is in November.  Arguments for this case will be heard in October, just weeks before the election!  Indubitably, the President will be interrogated about his stance on this delicate issue.  If Obama's view is anything like what it was in 2008, I really like it.

He mentioned that an edge should be given to ALL low-income high school students, regardless of race.  I think that this is a good balance between completely abolishing affirmative action policies and keeping the current race-based policies.  I personally do not think it is fair for a student who is equally qualified for admission to get denied purely because they are not a "minority."  I can understand the effort to put students on an equal playing field, but I still cannot fully accept the fact that well-qualified individuals sometimes get denied admission because of their race.  With all that said, I am still very torn on this issue.

How do you think the Supreme Court will decide?  More importantly, how do you think they should decide?


  1. Whew great article! I love reading your posts! I'm so undecided with this as well. Growing up as a minority, I always worked extra hard to get where I wanted to go. I never let my "blackness" stand in the way of anything I wanted. In fact most of the time I forget that I'm even African-American. For me, my college entry was based solely off of my test scores, GPA, and overall involvement with school but to my discredit, I had a much different life than most minorities classified under this law. While I think everyone should have to work equally as hard despite their race, I also believe that lack of resources, finances, and a good education truly influences our outcomes in life. So while I worked my butt of, I'm sure another minority worked just as hard as me and would never have an opportunity to succeed if it weren't for laws like affirmative action. Thanks for the brain food!

    Vonae Deyshawn

    1. Thank you so much, Vonae! I really appreciate it. I totally know what you mean. I feel like I'm in a similar spot. I am half black, but really never think about it. I've always tried my hardest, but I've also been EXTREMELY privileged and lucky to have amazing parents who made sure my education was always #1. It's hard to ignore the good outcomes of affirmative action for so many minority students - it really has helped to "bridge the gap" between race, class, etc. Thanks for your thoughtful comment!