Let's Get Political

Affirmative Action: Is It Fair?

I graduated from a wonderful university that I am increasingly proud to call my Alma mater. My SAT scores were not impressive–I have never been a fan of standardized test taking (though I am jealous of the essay questions on today’s SATs!) and I honestly did not prepare the way some people spend their entire high school lives preparing. My grade point average was good, but the three written essays I submitted along with my application are what I swear ensured my admittance to dear Western Washington University. I am a smart girl. Though I seem ditzy at times, it is all a part of my charming master plan, I promise.

Do you know how many times I was asked throughout my college career if I “used my Black” to get into college? I hope you are horrified that I was prompted even the one time, but the truth is, I faced that question fairly regularly. The truth is, any minority student probably has to answer those questions. For white students pursuing a higher education, it is assumed by society, their peers, everyone, that they were admitted because they worked hard in high school and they will likely go far contributing in the world. Even if this cannot possibly always be true, white students are given the benefit of the doubt.

“Affirmative action” was first enacted under President Kennedy in 1961 and has developed throughout the years to include not just race, but gender and sexual preference, eventually reaching a Supreme Court decision in 2003 that allowed colleges and universities to consider race upon acceptance into the higher educational system. Basically, this means that colleges, to create a greater range of diversity, are allowed to accept a minority student with decent grades over a white student with a 4.0. Naturally, the subject opens a world of dispute in our country. (There are other countries who have similar rules intact, as well.) Is it fair to accept someone into a school based on their race? Is providing minority students with a “better chance of acceptance” unfair to white students who have to rely solely on their grades, not their culture or the color of their skin?

Once again, the Supreme Court is looking closely into affirmative action laws in school based on a program at the University of Texas. Many believe the decision is under heat again because Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, the author and leader in the majority ruling for affirmative action, has retired and Justice Samuel Alito, her successor, has always been publicly wary of the ruling in the first place.

With five of the Supreme Court justices on record opposing the 2003 decision, we need to ask ourselves: is it fair? Race and education are two of the indefinitely hot topics raised not just during an election year, but consistently in our country’s history. Touchy subjects, fiery opinions and sensitivity across the nation make this particular subject particularly unpredictable.

To be fully honest, this is one of the few issues in which I can truly appreciate both sides of the argument. But personally, I support upholding affirmative action. (Surprised?) Yes, it is slightly offensive and unclear for both minority students and white students, for there is not a spot on your college acceptance letter that informs you, “Welcome to our University, because you are of Latino descent! Come diversify us!” nor do those unaccepted get a reassuring pat on the back that if their family had not hailed from Ireland, they would totally be in. I get that it seems unjust, I get that it sucks to have to work harder to prove yourself just because someone else is getting a leg up based on their ethnic background.

But (and here is where it gets controversial) I would argue that almost all minority students are born with less of a chance than white students, across the board, in all aspects of their (our) lives. It is harder to be taken seriously as a young Black male when the stereotypes are against you from the day you are born. It is much harder to be provided with the proper resources when you are a young Mexican woman who society looks down upon automatically. No, I do not think everyone and every institution is guilty of discrimination, but yes, I believe that stereotypes are still strongly in place and make it incredibly difficult for minorities–especially lower class minorities–to achieve the dreams we are all supposed to have a right to dream.

I am a bi-racial woman hailing from a very poor family. I was a first generation college student who had no resources or support in my family because everyone else was struggling just to not be harassed walking down the street. I had little parental support and almost no adult influence beside a few teachers I connected with at my high school. I graduated college in four years with an alright GPA, lots of debt and a ton of pride. I wish the same for my brothers, maybe one day. I can almost guarantee they would not be accepted into any university without that convenient leg up. Call it “using your Black” if you will, but my oldest brother is one of the smartest people I know–smarter than almost anyone I went to school with–and he would need as much support as possible because of his background. Young Black men are not taken seriously in this country, period. No argument. Affirmative action may be unfair, but it is unfair in the right direction. Until we can pull ourselves together as a country and stop discriminating based on ancient roles set by our forefathers, I wholly support affirmative action in higher education, as I hope our Supreme Court continues to do so.

And for the record, Washington state law does not support affirmative action regarding acceptance into college, therefore I was admitted into my school with no regard to my race. I write a mean essay. Go Vikings.

Image via Shutterstock

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