To Take or Not to Take Action Against Affirmative Action

Earlier this summer on August 23, 2018, Edward Blum, head of the SFFA (Students for Fair Admissions) sued Harvard on the basis of discriminating against Asian-Americans in their admissions process. This lawsuit claimed that Harvard not only held Asian-Americans to higher standards than other minorities but also used subjective measures such as personality scoring to do so. Harvard, in response to the lawsuit, released a statement on their website stating:

Harvard College is committed to expanding opportunity, to excellence, and to creating the diverse community essential to fulfilling its mission of educating engaged citizens and leaders. Harvard’s admissions policies do not discriminate against any applicant from any group. We will continue to vigorously defend the right of Harvard College, and every other college and university in the nation, to seek the educational benefits that come from bringing together a diverse group of students

Although the Edward Blum controversy over affirmative action has only recently spread around the nation, affirmative action has had its fair share of history. Affirmative action, otherwise known as "positive discrimination", is a policy that was implemented in March 6, 1961 by John F. Kennedy to ensure that minorities aren't discriminated against or have lowered opportunities as a result of their "race, creed, color, or national origin". Almost half a century later, the US still follows this policy; however, as shown by a Gallup poll taken from June 29th to July 2nd of 2016, 65% of the American population --- which, to put into perspective, is 7 of every 10 people, disapprove of the Supreme court's approval on college admissions, believing that "merit should be the only basis for college admissions". But, how exactly is merit defined and why do the majority seem to view it in opposition to an attempt at diversifying academic communities? Taking into account all the controversy behind affirmative action, it's no doubt that affirmative action poses complication and needs reform. Ultimately, however, affirmative action is one that's necessary to keep for academic communities to thrive.

As indicated prior, the perceived problem with affirmative action is that it devalues merit in the prioritization of diversity. It is commonly argued that affirmative action is an institutional manifestation of "reverse" discrimination as the policy puts white and Asian-American students in particular at a disadvantage as opposed to all else with different racial backgrounds: i.e. blacks, Hispanic/Latino, etc. In the minds of many, acceptance to a selective college is seen as a form of validation for the hard work they put into the application process. When hard work goes unrewarded, it is valid for someone to be confused as to why someone who might not be as academically endowed got in whereas the former of the two didn't. In an ideal world, everyone would be held to the same standard. However, taking into account the historical oppression many individuals have faced on the basis of their race, gender, etc, it's inevitable that preconceived notions about who they are as people will impact the amount of opportunities they have. That being said, affirmative action doesn't create a double standard so much as it adjusts it in acknowledgment of the unfair system that several individuals of different backgrounds have, even to now, been subjected to. As eloquently put by Sonia Sotomayor, an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, "There are cultural biases built into testing, and that was one of the motivations for the concept of affirmative action -- to try to balance out those effects."

In addition to providing equal opportunity, affirmative action is, in its own way, helpful towards everyone because it makes the admissions process holistic. When everything about a person is taken into consideration: from their race to their interests to their individual experiences, it sends the message that a person isn't defined solely by their grades. And truthfully, if they had been, there would most likely be a disproportionate amount of people generally coming from the same background therefore holding similar perspectives about academics to life itself. There is value for everyone in opening themselves up to the cultural experiences of others and affirmative action helps for that to happen.