Should colleges use Affirmative Action in admissions?

Ellen Finnel, Columnist

Pro (Finnel): It has been a little over 150 years since slavery was abolished in America, and while the U.S. has made great strides towards racial equality, it is still far from the reality we live in. This is why Affirmative Action plans were first put in place in 1961 by John F. Kennedy. He ordered federally funded projects to “take Affirmative Action to ensure that applicants are employed, and employees are treated during employment, without regard to their race, creed, color, or national origin” (Executive Order 10925). It has been over 50 years since these plans were put in place and they are still vital in today’s society.

Con (Hanes): While on the surface, the idea of providing a way for historically discriminated-against groups to get a sort of helping hand sounds nice, the path to hell is paved with good intentions. It is difficult to put a price on historical or modern-day discrimination. Is an African American boy’s experience of discrimination and racism going to be the same whether he grows up in south-side Chicago living below the poverty line or if an African American boy is raised with in a half a million dollar house in Waunakee? Both are minorities, but I would guess that one has experienced far more hardship than the other. This is why factoring in race on say, a college application, is silly because being a certain minority: Black, latino, etc, has different implications and can affect different individuals in a variety of ways that cannot justify some sort of value that a person should be compensated for. Another issue is the somewhat derogatory message that the concept of Affirmative Action can send. A message that if you are black then you need Affirmative Action to get into a good college can easily create a sort of undertone of inferiority in minority groups, and should a minority who is eligible for Affirmative Action earn his or her way into a prestigious school, this could easily be undercut by people who believe that the person only got in because of Affirmative Action, making a policy meant to empower minorities more harmful than helpful.

Pro: Many institutions today consider admissions a holistic process. This means that in addition to grades, test scores, etc., a student’s race, gender and socioeconomic background are also considered in the admissions process. In a 1976 study of the effectiveness of early Affirmative Action policies, it was found that black students tended to pursue higher degrees than their white counterparts. This helps to dispel the myth that students affected by Affirmative Action are further disenfranchised by receiving a helping hand.

Con: But the most damning point against judging different people based on race is just that. It is judging people based on race. No matter what justifications are or the intent is (even if the goal of it is to take race out of the equation), Affirmative Action works off the mechanism of discriminating by race, which is unacceptable under any circumstances. You cannot right a wrong with another wrong even if it is with the best intentions. Many proponents of Affirmative Action claim that it does not favor one race over another, while others claim that it is purely to create a level playing field for historically oppressed groups so that they have a better chance to succeed, and in a sense compensate for their suffering and discrimination.

Pro: Affirmative Action in no way intends to attempt to make up for the years of injustice minorities have faced in this country. They are policies intended to rectify the continuing damage these injustices are causing today. In the US, minority groups are disproportionately affected by poverty. According to the 2016 US Census, the poverty rate for black and Hispanic Americans was highest, at 22% and 19% respectively. Compared to the poverty rate of Asian and white Americans with rates at 10% and 8% respectively, there is a clear gap in income. This income gap sets these students at a disadvantage to their wealthier peers. Poor public education, lack of educational resources and high dropout rates decrease a child’s accessibility to quality post-secondary education, no matter how smart they are.

Con: There are already financial aid programs to help impoverished families pay for colleges they could not afford. One solution could be to increase funding for programs like these and similar ones that would improve education in impoverished areas. This would naturally help more black and Hispanic minorities since they make up a relatively larger margin of those living in poverty; however, this aid will not be based on race because it will also be helping Asian Americans and white kids who are also in poverty stricken families. This is just one example of a solution that could induce the effect we are looking for, more equality between races, without downright discrimination.

Pro: While I do think that Affirmative Action programs have been beneficial for many of those affected by it, I do realize the flaws in the system. I feel that with adjustments to Affirmative Action policies, as well as increased financial aid for impoverished students, gains can be made towards equality.

Con: Although I would never claim that the issue of racial equality in the U.S. has been resolved in any way, I do not believe that Affirmative Action is an appropriate remedy to the solution. It is demeaning and serves as a point of racial contention in an already divided political atmosphere. There may be effective solutions to healing our nation, but one that works off the mechanism of racial discrimination for purpose of absolving past racial discrimination is not the answer.