SFFA supporters fail to see the need for affirmative action


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A rally against affirmative action in Boston shows the irony of white and Asian students claiming that race should not be considered in college admissions.

Recent Supreme Court cases have once again brought to light the growing tensions revolving around the use of affirmative action in college admissions. The nonprofit group Students for Fair Admissions (SSFA) alleged in 2014 that Harvard and UNC-Chapel Hill discriminate against white and Asian-American students in favor of Black and Hispanic students. Now those allegations have turned into Supreme Court cases, with oral arguments taking place on Oct. 31.

According to an article by the University of California Irvine, affirmative action first came about in an executive order issued by President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1965, which prohibited employment discrimination based on attributes like race and national origin, and required federal contractors to take affirmative action in creating equal treatment of employees, regardless of race. Now, the SFFA claims that schools that use affirmative action in their admissions process are violating the 14th Amendment. 

However, consideration of race does not violate the 14th Amendment when race is among a number of factors being considered and is used for the purpose of increasing diversity.

In this situation, affirmative action is a set of procedures in which schools consider factors such as race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status and even gender to ensure that their student body resembles a diverse group of people and reflects the demographics of society. Schools like Harvard argue that these policies help to create a more representative student body.

Race is part of a person’s identity, and schools like UNC and Harvard claim that they cannot consider a student as an individual in their holistic approach without considering race, especially when race determines so many aspects of a person’s life in the U.S. 

From the very beginning of a student’s academic career, race and the quality of education a student receives are somewhat correlated. Low-income neighborhoods disproportionately consist of Black and Hispanic families. The property taxes for such neighborhoods are low, which automatically sets the bar low for funds going to the district schools. 

This pattern continues through the education system to practically every institution in society. A poll of randomly selected adults conducted by the Washington Post-Schar School shows that 62 percent of participants believe that students from low-income families have an unfair disadvantage in terms of getting into a good college. In the same poll, however, about 63 percent of participants support the Supreme Court banning colleges and universities from considering race and ethnicity in their admission policies.

What makes no sense about these statistics is that race and economic status go hand in hand. The economic status of many Black and Hispanic students is what initially demands the need for affirmative action. The playing field is not even when students of all backgrounds submit their applications for higher education. 

This is not a matter of one race working harder than the other to achieve their ideal American dream. Rather, it is the consequence of a system where hard work does not necessarily result in a proportional reward or payment. Additionally, systematic racism has made it more difficult for people of color to escape the loopholes of poverty.

Furthermore, supporters of the SFFA believe that their race should not hurt their chances of admission. What’s ironic, however, is that race and the legacy of racism systematically hurt people of color in their college admissions because of previously existing disadvantages.

The argument for one’s GPA, grades, and test scores determining admission into college goes back to the same uneven playing field. How can students of differing backgrounds and varying degrees of educational quality be compared in terms of test scores? This argument loops back to race and economic status as well. 

While I recognize that it is important to understand the challenges faced by white and Asian students, I don’t think the answer is to do away with affirmative action. Some supporters of the SFFA have brought up a compromise in which diversity can still be preserved, but race is a less significant factor in the admissions process. While there have yet to be any realistic implementations of this compromise, it is more promising than the complete removal of race/ethnicity from college admissions policies—a fate that seems more and more likely considering the Republican majority in the Supreme Court. 

Many argue that the issue goes beyond creating diversity on college campuses and that affirmative action just addresses the symptoms of a broken system. However, for the system to be fixed, the playing field needs to be evened, which is something that can never be achieved with the current disparities in education and economic status faced by historically underrepresented and disadvantaged races. 

Higher education is what Black and Hispanic students need to break the cycle and fix the system. Until then, affirmative action is necessary, and race is relevant in the admissions process.