On Monday, lawsuits were announced against Harvard and the University of North Carolina for their race-based affirmative action policies. The lawsuits argue these policies hurt Asian students by holding them to a higher standard for admission. Despite an increasing number of highly qualified Asian applicants, the universities’ admissions policies seek to limit the number of admits in this minority group, the suits allege.
If you couldn’t already tell from my last name, I’m Asian-American. During the admissions process, I didn’t exactly feel that my race helped me gain my acceptance letters. But do I think that abandoning affirmative action — that “forgetting” about race in the application process — is the route colleges ought to take? In short, no.
Clearly, I was fortunate enough to be accepted to Yale. I am not currently affected by affirmative action policies, but rather dealt with them in the past. In addition, I want to clarify that I’m not attempting to push the “model minority” stereotype, which dictates that all Asian applicants are upper-middle-class, high-achieving students. Asian Americans come from backgrounds as diverse as any other group, and that certainly shouldn’t be forgotten.
That being said, I do think certain groups of students often have it rough in the admissions process — one study found that a white applicant was three times more likely to be admitted to a selective school than an Asian applicant with comparable academic records. However, abandoning affirmative action policies is not the best way to ameliorate this problem.
Other minorities, such as blacks and Latinos, are still subject to systemic discrimination in this country. The system is skewed against these minority groups. Affirmative action may not be ideal, but we don’t live in an ideal world. We need some way of correcting for these disadvantages and biases.
These minorities aren’t presented the same opportunities and environments as other groups. Even recent events, such as Ferguson and the death of Trayvon Martin, give us a particularly vivid reminder that although we’ve come a long way on racial equality, we still have a long way to go, and we don’t, by any means, live in a post-racial society. Many people still face a world that is stacked against them.
There’s been a lot of talk recently about STEM not being a female-friendly environment. Likewise, many extracurriculars, both academic and non-academic, present entry barriers for particular minority groups. Making admissions race-blind would ignore this critical fact.
I do believe there’s some truth to the claim that my acceptance to my high school mock trial team was easier than my African-American teammate’s acceptance. I faced fewer inherent obstacles. It seems unfair to equally weigh the same extracurricular activity listed on our applications. Diversity is critical for the health of this University and, for the most part, affirmative action does a good job at promoting it.
Of course, there is also some truth to the claim that the admissions process can often be unfair to particular groups of students, but I don’t think we should target affirmative action in order to solve this problem.
Many have cited getting rid of legacy and donor preferences as a way to open up universities to more diversity. Others have said we ought to de-emphasize the “holistic” characteristic of applications, arguing that it works to the detriment of students who do not have extensive extracurricular opportunities.
Admittedly, I’m not quite sure where I stand on these issues. While in theory, getting rid of legacy and donor preferences is egalitarian, I’m not familiar enough with the mechanics and operations of universities to know the effects such changes would have on alumni relations and finances. And I certainly do think that universities should have “holistic” application processes: They make for a more diverse student body with a wide and variable range of interests, passions and quirks.
I’m not here to offer a solution. I’m aware that I don’t know enough to do that. However, I know what’s not the solution: getting rid of affirmative action. It may alleviate one problem, but then you’re just left with another one that’s just as bad, if not worse. It’s like sinking a boat to stop a fire.
Leo Kim is a sophomore in Trumbull College. His columns run on alternate Thursdays. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.