All in for Affirmative Action


Stella Ren ’22

The phrase “affirmative action” was first used in a speech by John F. Kennedy in a 1961 executive order designed to ensure minorities equal opportunity in employment and pay. Many universities implemented affirmative action programs of their own after the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Although originally designed to redress existing inequalities, some people argue that affirmative action is now a policy that makes the college admissions process unjust. However, affirmative action remains a vital tool for maintaining diversity in an education system that still systemically disadvantages certain minorities.
Let’s be real: the college admissions process is unfair. We all know that anyone can get a leg up if they are an “A.L.D.C.”: Athlete, Legacy, on the Dean’s Interest List, or Child of a faculty or staff member. According to The New York Times, ALDC’s constitute only 5% of the applicant pool, but make up 30% of admitted students at Harvard, which recently had to release many of its confidential admissions statistics due to its ongoing legal battles. This, to be clear, is an insane ratio.
In a recent lawsuit against Harvard, Students for Fair Admissions, led by a conservative activist Edward Blum, argued that it is unfair that Asian-Americans are held to higher standards than other applicants when it comes to SAT scores and grades. Cases in the past have argued that affirmative action is detrimental to white students, but what makes this case special is that it is clearly stating that affirmative action is hurtful to a specific minority, which plaintiffs argue goes against its original purpose. However, a federal judge ruled that Harvard does not discriminate against Asian-Americans.
Personally, I believe the case was a conservative attempt to get rid of the policy because of partisan beliefs. If Harvard truly discriminated against Asian-Americans, why would they be the largest ethnic group present at Harvard – 25.3% of the student body – when Asians make up only 5.6% of the United States’ population?
While Harvard may have won this battle, the idea that affirmative action is unfair is still very much present. While more than 50% of Americans support affirmative action for minorities in general (according to the Pew Research Center), a study by Gallup, Inside Higher Ed, determined that 63% of Americans believed that race or ethnicity should not be a factor in college admissions.
Affirmative action is crucial for students of color. While maybe a white person with a higher SAT score may be replaced by a person of color with a slightly lower SAT score, this is not unfair. Colleges are trying to recruit people who they think are going to make an impact on the world, and what makes someone unique or special (e.g. their race) is going to impact the world a lot more than grades or scores.
If we’re going to talk about merit in college applications and how admissions should be based solely on scores and grades, the 25th and 75th percentile SAT scores of Harvard applicants range from 1460-1590 (Harvard Statistics). That represents the 98th to 99th percentiles of all test takers in the U.S. In other words, the majority of people getting into Harvard have the grades, the scores, and the extracurriculars. Many applicants “deserve” to be there, but are chosen for what distinguishes them, and, some of the time it’s their race or cultural background. Minorities have been discriminated against for centuries because of institutional racism that puts them at a systemic disadvantage in life, and, for once, the institutions are trying to work in their favor.
Affirmative action is fulfilling its purpose, to promote diversity in schools. This is not only beneficial for the minorities who pursue higher education, but also for non-minorities. Promoting diversity in higher education means that those who have not been exposed to people who are different from themselves get to meet people who might just change the world one day, whether they be black, Native American, Hispanic, Indian, etc.
So yes, I support affirmative action, and I believe everyone should. It was put in place to include more women and minorities in places from which they have traditionally been excluded.
And now that it is doing just that, lawsuit after lawsuit is being brought up to try and convince the public to turn against these programs. If affirmative action is taken away in the future, our nation as a whole will suffer, and we will be taking two steps back for the one step forward we took when colleges decided to adopt this process.