The Need for Improved Affirmative Action in Universities
As a college student, I am often thinking about the ways that the American racial divide is reflected in the space around me. While many universities espouse liberal-leaning ideas, it is also true that they are also at the forefront of protecting the interests of white elites; admissions biased towards legacy students, financial entanglements with corporations, and outdated curricula all serve to pass generational wealth from parent to child and from century to century.
One of the most poignant issues affecting Black and Asian students that has resulted out of this system is that of affirmative action. Affirmative action arose in the 60s as a response to the civil rights movement, and was at first intended to ensure that all applicants to universities had an equal chance to be admitted, regardless of their race. In recent years, it has become more complex, with universities taking race into account (with many other factors) when deciding admissions.
However, this idea has recently come under fire. Many are familiar with the Harvard and University of Texas cases, in which Asian and white plaintiffs respectively filed a suit against the universities, claiming that they not only discriminate against white and Asian applicants, but they do so in favor of Black and Latino applicants. In short, these suits allege that Asians are being “penalized” for having on average high test scores and GPAs, whereas Black and Latino students are in some ways being “coddled” by the system.
There is by no means a simple answer to this issue. But I believe that to get rid of affirmative action completely would be a step backwards, for both the Asian and Black community. It is true that Harvard and other universities discriminate against the Asian community; many findings show that they systematically rank Asian students lower on subjective criteria, like demeanors in interviews, invoking the stereotype that Asians are “robotic” without individual personalities.
However, to claim that this is somehow done in favor of Black or Latino students is erroneous, in my opinion. They are still highly underrepresented at every elite university in the United States, owing to discrimination not just in the admissions process but in society, which is experienced at every point in their life before they even apply.
Asians, Blacks, and Latinos are all suffering from racism in the university system; however, in these suits, white and Asian students are grouped together as both experiencing discrimination. Much like the model minority myth, these suits claiming to represent the interests of Asians are only a sort of “Trojan Horse” to further enforce white supremacy and the American racial hierarchy.
In high school, I remember often hearing fellow Asian classmates imply that they would lose their spot in an elite school to a Black or Latino student who was not qualified. It doesn’t help that college admission has become an extremely high stakes, stress-filled process, which is designed to pit all students against each other. It made me uncomfortable at the time, to hear friends who seemed so passionate about dismantling Asian racism turn around and contribute to misinformation and Black oppression.
But in order to move forward, we must confront this issue and have the conversation, whether it is uncomfortable or not. We mut stop believing that Black and Asians are in some sort of zero-sum game, where a step forward for the Black community is a step backwards for the Asian community.
Affirmative action is by no means perfect; in fact, studies show that as exists in its current form, it tends to benefit white women the most. But the idea that these lawsuits are pushing for, that a race-blind process would be more equitable, is simply false. It assumes that at the point of application, all students have been on an equal playing field. But they have not. Not every student has had access to the same education, tutoring, or extracurriculars as others, and race can often play a key factor in their lived experience. In short, while it needs significant overhaul and reconstruction, the concept of affirmative action is needed for both Black and Asian students moving forward.
It’s also important to remember that 69% of Asian Americans support affirmative action in admissions, despite the lawsuits’ claim to represent general Asian interests. While this number still shows a significant tension, it also shows me that despite attempts to completely divide the Asian and Black community, there is still a solidarity that exists between them. Not just in this month but year-round, we must remember that it is this solidarity that will move both communities forward.