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Affirmative Action: The Policy, Reason, and Need

Updated: Oct 29, 2019

Many high school students strive to go to Ivy League colleges such as Harvard or Yale, but when they find that they fall short of their dream, it is natural for them as human beings to seek someone to blame. For many Asian American and Pacific Islander students, the scapegoat in this situation is the idea of “affirmative action.” Simply put, affirmative action is “is a policy in which an individual's color, race, sex, religion or national origin are taken into account to increase opportunities provided to an underrepresented part of society.” As a result of this policy, a college might find itself preferring an African-American over an Asian-American since they wish to promote two things: first, the diversity of its own institution, and, second, the education of some African-American students to help social mobility.

The Recurring Issue

In November of 2014, SFFA, or Students for Fair Admission, filed a lawsuit against Harvard, accusing it of discriminating against Asian American students in its admissions process. This lawsuit gained more publicity as it progressed and caused a controversial discussion on what “being just” is when considering the role race plays into college admission, the main topic of discussion being whether it should be considered. Gary Gutting from the New York Times outlines my thoughts on the topic very well as he claims that “when the purpose is sufficiently worthy, it’s right to prefer minority over majority applicants.”

When Asian-American students point our racial disparity in affirmative action, they forget that at one point in their history, the policy has helped them rise by providing them a basic necessity for education in the United States: understanding the English language. Although not exactly considered a part of affirmative action, the court case Lau vs. Nicols provided Chinese immigrants without English knowledge assurance that they would be taught English as federal law. The law was pushed forward by a group called Chinese for Affirmative Action, or the CAA, who served to “advocate systemic change that protects immigrant rights, promotes diversity, and remedies racial injustice.” This mirrors the situation currently presented in that both times a minority group has wished to increase its presence and encourage racial parity.

As I see it, this is a recurring pattern to help those in oppressed situations, just as immigrants from China once were, rise and take a stance for equality among all races. The idea of affirmative action serves to enable people who are otherwise looped back into a cycle of poverty due to a low socioeconomic background. Social mobility is one of the defining characteristics of equality as everyone should have a fair opportunity to rise or fall, and this becomes increasingly important when considering those in situations where they may not be able to focus completely on education due to having to support a family at the same time.

The image above shows a white man with a ladder he can climb and an African American man who only has one rung on his ladder. This disparity is reflected by the idea that both men have the same understanding of success, but the way to get there is much easier for one man than the other. Climbing a ladder with one rung is nearly impossible; therefore, it is harder for the African American male to reach heights of success, whereas the white man is able to easily go one step at a time.

The Real Problem

Even still, why is it that minorities are to blame for admission “inequality” when such thing as legacy admission still exists? Legacy admission is the process by which an applicant’s parents/past with the school is taken into consideration, and it is believed that “giving legacy applicants an edge helps them bring in alumni donations.” This means if an applicant has a family member who is an alum of the school, then they are more likely to get in since the college is chasing the funding rather than equality. As an Asian-American myself, getting into Ivy League colleges would be a dream come true, but the future of racial equality is much more important than my own goal, so I know that if I do not get in, I will not blame any other minority since we all shared a common goal.

Overall, minorities should not be looked upon as the reasons why privileged people with more opportunities do not get in; instead, affirmative action should continue until all people are equal in all sectors and it is not clear that one race is disproportionately poverty-stricken than others. Once equality has truly been achieved, then we can reconsider the justice behind affirmative action, but until then we should be focusing more on the legacy admissions policy than blaming those who may have had to work ten times harder to get into the position they are currently in.


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