Supreme Court Considers Rejecting Affirmative Action From College Admissions Process

This past Tuesday, the U.S. Supreme Court announced that would hear an appeal challenging the University of Texas’ affirmative action program. The appeal came from a student, Abigail Fisher, who claimed affirmative action constituted a “racial preference” in the college admissions process — she claims that she was not accepted at UT because she is white. In her statement, she mentions that her grades and test scores “exceeded those of many of the admitted minority candidates,” according to the LA Times, and she subsequently sued the University “alleging racial discrimination in violation of the Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection of the laws.”

Affirmative action is a very tricky issue to talk about. It’s deeply and complexly tied to race and a dynamic places minority against majority — people of color compete for spots in colleges against white people, and are considered by a different set of criteria than white individuals. The categories of “white” and “people of color” have never been stable categories, either — affirmative action policy now counts African-American and Latino-American students as individuals benefitting from the race-based admissions policies, but Asian- and Pacific Islander-American students are not. How were these decisions made? And why are they being challenged now?


The history of affirmative action begins with the first official Supreme Court ruling in 1978, in Regents of the University of California v. Bakke. But in order to get a bigger picture of how race is tied to this issue, we have to go back further — to1954 and the civil rights case Brown v. Board of Education. In this Supreme Court case, the court voted unanimously that segregated schools were unequal and that they violate the same law that Fisher is using to challenge affirmative action at the University of Texas: the Equal Protection Clause in the 14th Amendment. After Brown v. Board of Education, schools began a process of desegregating their students, which, according to PBS, opened “the door for affirmative action policies.”

The political face of the desegregation effort turned up again in 1974 when California State Legislature passed a proposal insisting that University of California match “the racial composition of its student body to that of each year’s graduating high school class in the state,” according to PBS. By guaranteeing space in their universities to minority applicants who were legally discriminated against before Brown v. Board, the legislature was replacing old race-based policies with a new, better-intentioned one. The high school and university ratios were supposed to match “by 1980,” but the process was never completed due to the large number of court cases challenging this proposal (and others like it) throughout the ’70s and into the present day.

Since 1974 the public debate over affirmative action has extended beyond the black and white binary addressed in Brown v. Board. Many of the cases about race and admissions in the past few decades concerned questionable admissions policies that restricted the number of Asian/American students admitted at top universities — an interesting development, since Asian/Americans were originally among the populations positively affected by affirmative action. In 1978, the Supreme Court ruled in Regents of the University of California v. Bakke that the UC Davis Medical School was unconstitutional in using quotas and reserving seats for “disadvantaged” students, which then included “blacks, Latinos, American Indians and Asian Americans,” according to PBS, while agreeing that race could be used as a factor in admissions policies.

Integrated classroom at Anacostia High School, Washington DC (1957). Image courtesy of the Library of Congress. via

Ten years later in 1988, university admissions policies were questioned again. The US Department of Education set out to examine the admissions policies at Harvard, UC Berkeley and UCLA. The Department had noticed some odd statistics — a “sharp drop in the percentage of Asian admissions at UC Berkeley” happened “early in the decade, even though a higher percentage of Asians met UC’s eligibility requirements than applicants from any other racial or ethnic group,” according to PBS. In 1989, UC Berkeley’s Chancellor, Ira Michael Heyman, apologized for the policies that had led to the decline in Asian/American student enrollment, and the school decided to redesign its admissions policies so that more weight was put on academic performance.

According to PBS, “The change is largely in response to earlier complaints that the university put too much emphasis on extracurricular activities and other subjective criteria in an attempt to limit admissions of Asian students.”

UC Berkeley’s admissions system was using a racial stereotype that’s uncomfortable to look at — the stereotype that Asian/American students test well academically but can be found lacking in anything not learned by rote memorization. It’s a stereotype that still has cultural currency today.  The uncomfortable part is that this stereotype sometimes holds true, and UC Berkeley was successful in using it to keep Asian/American students out.

This was not the first time that a university used subjective criteria to weed out candidates based on race or ethnicity. As Malcolm Gladwell writes in the essay, “Getting In: The Social logic of Ivy League Admissions,” a powerful early 20th century anxiety about Jewish students overwhelming elite schools like Harvard led to drastic changes in the process of college admissions.

Students protest against the ruling in the Supreme Court case Regents of the University of California v. Bakke. via

“Lowell [Harvard’s president at the time] … realized that if a definition of merit based on academic prowess was leading to the wrong kind of student [that is, Jewish students], the solution was to change the definition of merit,” Gladwell writes.

Applicants were asked to supply a greater pool of personal information than ever before: letters of personal reference, photographs, and personal essays listing extracurricular activities as well as answers to questions about “race and color,” “religious preference,” “maiden name of mother,” “birthplace of father” and any name changes that might have occurred to the applicant since birth. The private lives of students became crucial to the admissions process in an effort to keep out Jewish applicants through genealogy, family history, and other personal information.

College applications still ask for this personal information today, and the information collected still has an effect on race and college admissions — take the 2011 article that found mixed-race Asian/American students with ambiguously raced last names were not listing their race in college applications, hoping for a better shot at getting in. These well-known admissions questions started as a way to keep out students of certain ethnicities and races out, and after all these years, they are still doing what they were designed to do, secretly or not-so-secretly.

But what does this have to do with affirmative action? Everything. Because while affirmative action might just seem like just a liberal-minded way to get more minorities into college, the system is deeply influenced by the methodology of racial segregation. Before Brown v. Board, the purpose was to keep minority students out, and the purpose now is to invite them in, but the power dynamic — elite, largely white college officials deciding who gets in, who stays out, and what the numbers are — has stayed the same.

Students protesting Prop 209, which prevented race, sex or ethnicity from being used as positive factors used in public employment. via

Affirmative action policies do help individual minority students, but they also support the status quo so that the majority stays the majority, which we can see in college admissions statistics. According to the Boston Globe, “University of California system moved to a race-blind system 14 years ago,” which results in schools like University of California Davis and University of California Irvine having about 29- and 15-percent white students, respectively, in the first-year class, while Ivy League schools that do not participate in by race-blind admissions but do participate in affirmative action, like Harvard and Princeton, have about 44- and 49-percent white students in the freshman class, respectively.  The gap is about twenty percent — a notable amount.

The term “minority,” stays an unstable category, though. Not all racial and ethnic minorities are eligible for the “help” of affirmative action, and the definition of “minority” has changed over time include certain groups and exclude others. From Harvard’s exclusion of Jewish students in the ’20s to UC Berekeley’s cap on Asian/American admissions in the ’80s, some groups’ upward mobility has been threatening enough for schools to develop policies to keep these students out.

The language of people challenging affirmative action, too, is interesting — from Allan Bakke of Regents of the University of California v. Bakke in 1978 to Fisher in 2012, white students challenging affirmative action in the courts have appropriated the rhetoric of anti-racist activists to make their cases. Both Fisher and Bakke looked for support in the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment, the same clause used to support Brown v. Board of Education. It gets tricky here, too — these are white individuals in positions of power, who have the money and knowledge of resources to sue entire establishments, which is not a privilege many individuals have, especially people of color. The phrase “discriminate[d] … on the basis of race,” present in both Bakke and Fisher’s court documents, has a very different significance in this context.

Students rallying for affirmative action in Ann Arbor, Michigan in 2003. via

Affirmative action is a policy that stems directly from the racism that caused schools to be racially segregated, but the racism affirmative action is trying to correct, for better or worse, isn’t really discussed. Instead it turns into a dynamic of universities “helping” minority students get into schools on terms created by a privileged majority. The focus hones in on this uncomfortable act of “charity” to minorities instead of acknowledging the racial and structural inequality that exists in the country and its public school systems — and the reasoning seems to be that by offering minorities of certain races a better chance at higher education, the playing field will be leveled and the effects of institutional racism and structural inequality will somehow be nullified.

Or maybe the playing field is already leveled — maybe we’re living in a post-racial society where racism and discrimination are non-issues. That, at least, is what the recent court challenges to affirmative action seem to assume.

The last time affirmative action was considered in the Supreme Court prior to Fisher v. University of Texas was in the 2003 case, Grutter v. Bollinger — in this case, the court approved of using certain kinds of race-based consideration when selecting students for upper education. In Justice Sandra Day O’Connor’s closing statement, she remarked,

“It has been 25 years since Justice Powell [in Regents of the University of California v. Bakke] first approved the use of race to further an interest in the context of public higher education … We expect that 25 years from now, the use of racial preferences will no longer be necessary to further the interest approved today.”

Instead, it’s an unexpectedly short nine years. And now, according to the LA Times, this latest appeal “is likely to have a national impact” — it might be the case that ends “the high court’s more than three decades of decisions allowing affirmative actions.”

July 1995, Berkeley, California, USA --- Students protest outside the meeting of the University of California's Board of Regents in favor of Affirmative Action. The protests proved ultimately ineffective, partly because of pre-existing state voter initiatives. --- Image by © David Butow/CORBIS SABA via

With Day having been replaced by Justice Samuel Alito just two years after the University Regents v. Bakke ruling, it seems like this might be the last time we’ll see affirmative action in courts or anywhere.  Depending on how the court rules in the case of Fisher v. University of Texas, it’s possible that it will become illegal for universities that receive public funds to take race into consideration during the admissions process. It’s also possible that schools like the University of Texas which have a “top ten policy,” in which students who place into the top 10% of their high school class are guaranteed admission, will be told that they can’t justify race-based affirmative action if their top ten policy has already given them a diverse student body. (Fisher’s grades did not place her in the top 10% of her high school class, but she argues that her grades were still higher than “many of the admitted minority candidates.”) It’s not certain that we’ll see affirmative action laws change, but the current makeup of the Supreme Court tells us that we might. Elena Kagan, generally considered one of the more liberal voices, has recused herself from the case because she worked on a brief related to the case while it was in a lower court. That means one liberal vote is lost against votes from justices like Scalia and Alito. According to the Huffington Post, in 2007, Alito struck down “affirmative action programs in public high schools in an opinion that concluded, ‘The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.'”

This is where Alito’s wrong — ending America’s history of racism is not that easy. College admissions are deeply entwined with race and a historical effort to control people of minority races — whether it’s through who gets into college, who doesn’t get in, or how many of people of certain races and ethnicities do. And since popular wisdom has it that higher education functions as the doorway to a career in an increasingly harsh economy, affirmative action also becomes a question of who we allow to access a certain level of income and socioeconomic status. It’s a complicated system that reflects an uncomfortable racial balance that America has been trying to rectify since Brown v. Board of Education. While affirmative action is doing what it set has set out to do — get minorities in to college — it still reflects the complicated and developing relationship America has with race and the educational system, and the way that institutionalized power discrepancies tend to play out in it. As an LA Times editorial mentions, “Despite the emergence of a black middle class [due in part to affirmative action], stark inequalities in income and education persist.”

While affirmative action has tried to fix some problems of inequality, we are far from the point of having fixed everything. And with Fisher’s case making it to the Supreme Court, we move to the next step of the complicated intertwining of race and the educational system in America — which apparently consists of trying to disentangle them entirely. It’s up to the Supreme Court to decide whether the University of Texas’s policies (and possibly those of many other universities) are in violation of the Equal Protection Clause. But no matter what previous cases’ rhetoric may have been, white students like Fisher aren’t the ones who have traditionally needed to rely upon the Equal Protection Clause — and even with affirmative action in place, students (and all people) of color still suffer systematic discrimination. That won’t go away with this case. Telling universities they can’t consider race in admissions decisions won’t make mean that race is no longer a factor in academia or in life, or absolve us of our responsibility to work towards equal access to education and to success regardless of ethnicity and class. Hopefully our commitment to that process can be strengthened by whatever happens in the case of Fisher v. the University of Texas, and we can move towards a system that doesn’t hinge on a privileged majority granting or denying access to social or academic institutions to an underprivileged minority. Then we could really say we’ve won something.

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Whitney Pow

Whitney is a lover of food, books, comic books and journals made for left-handed people. They are a Ph.D. candidate at Northwestern University, where their research focuses on queer video games and new media. They are also a graphic designer, writer and editor who has worked for places like Opium Magazine, Literary Death Match, Publishers Weekly and The Feminist Press. Check out their website at and follow them on Twitter @whitneypow.

Whitney has written 53 articles for us.


  1. Thanks for writing this, Whitney. It’s definitely a complicated topic to approach. I think a lot of similar arguments also crop up surrounding scholarships and other monetary awards, where you have the whole need-based vs. merit-based dichotomy, and people questioning that.

  2. I have so many feelings about this…so many feelings. I am multi-racial (Swiss/Mexican/Cherokee/Italian…which amounts to half-white, half-other), and pass as white because of my Swiss last name and super pale skin. My parents raised me to appreciate all of my heritage, but they definitely also raised me with a poor view of things like affirmative action. My parents always said that they would never let me be “the kind of person who uses her skin color to get ahead.” So I applied to school as a white girl. I didn’t apply for minority scholarships. All of my tuition was paid for with academic merit-based scholarships. And I guess I’m pretty damn proud of that.
    I don’t know. I just don’t know. So many feelings…

    • Ongoing, systemic discrimination against people of color =/= “getting ahead”.

      From what you’ve said here, I’d imagine you enjoy a lot of white privilege, and while you should absolutely be proud of making your way through college based on academic merit, there are many, many others facing a much different set of circumstances.

      But anyway, thanks for this, Whitney. It’s a very complicated issue, and while I think affirmative action is certainly an imperfect solution to a problem I don’t think is fully understood, I can’t help but hope that bumbling around will continue to bring more awareness and opportunities for each of us to consider our privilege.

      • This article doesn’t address the I.Q. discrepancies present between the races (economic variables controlled for). I.Q. is mainly a function of genetics. There is a relationship between lower I.Q. and lower income, as well. A merit based system is the only way to ensure we get the best people.

    • girl chile’ you do have so many feelings! I guess I am a bit startled by the idea that you socially and legally identify as white but then are proud how you aren’t “one of them” that would take the necessary support to even the playing field? Systematic institutionalized racism is the system in place that has kept well deserving people of all ethnic backgrounds from having a fighting chance as their white male counterparts. Yeah its tricky because times they are a changin’ but have they really changed that much? Look at your workplace and your likely to see me; the only female dyke of color for miles. Or you, or any one of us floating in the abyss of solitude. I don’t have the privilege of assimilating to the dominate culture so this idea is truly fascinating to me. Affirmative Action in a large part supported women – white women, so essentially despite your best efforts you DID benefit from being an other.
      Regardless – congrats on school and for being so smart they paid YOU to go!

  3. How did the rejected white lady access all those ‘minority’ students’ transcripts in order to prove her marks were higher? Did she stand outside the admissions office interviewing them as they exited?

    Why don’t we focus on eliminating the other kind of ‘affirmative action’, the fact that talentless rich people like Bush II are given entry to Ivy League schools based on family connections? Their automatic entitlement to higher education is never questioned or seen as an obstacle to other applicants.

    • Sadly this is a lot harder to change because families like that can afford to donate craploads of money. Universities will do everything they can to keep affluent donors for purposes of “keeping the university going”. I imagine they could claim that donated Bush-type money frees up money to go to financial aid/scholarships for minority students or something like that.

    • THANK YOU. i can’t think of a single way she would have enough information to make such a statement, unless she was creeping around campus asking people about their high school grades.

    • I was wondering the exact same thing! Where did she get the information to make a claim like that?

  4. I’d like to point out that this girl is completely overlooking the point of the top 10% rule. I’m a student at the University of Texas, and I’ve heard all the complaints about how people with lower GPA’s and SAT scores get in because they’re not white. However, the rule exists to allow students who grew up in worse school systems to get to go to schools such as UT. It has NOTHING to do with race, except that it turns out that a lot of the students in substandard areas are minorities. What she overlooks is the face that there are a lot of students from rural (predominantly white) Texas that also went to poorer schools. They may also have lower grades/ scores, but no one complains about them because they are white. It’s ridiculous that this case should get as far as the Supreme Court, it’s just another privileged white kid complaining because they think the system is out to get them (and their money).

  5. Women and minorities are about to get screwed. Wouldn’t this also impact whites who apply to HBCU’s?

  6. I do think colleges should take more than GPA and standardized test scores into account. Statistically, people with more money go to better schools and have higher test grades and GPAs. Obviously, most people don’t believe that rich people are inherently smarter than poor people. Nor do (rational) people believe that Caucasians/Asians/etc are the smartest race. And yet higher test scores and GPAs would lead some to automatically demonize affirmative action programs as unfairly favoring certain populations of color at the detriment of – allegedly – more meritorious students.

    I think it comes down to cultural prioritization/expectations as well as resources. If your parents have a college degree and expect you to go to college, than the bar is raised above more than a HS diploma. You have poor kids having to work 20/hr jobs while in high school because helping to support the family is a priority over taking the time to study for a (completely learnable) standardized test. Yet, you have another kid’s parents dole out 3K on an SAT prep course that the kid goes to after volunteering 5 hours a week at a prestigious internship that their parent hooked them up with. You also have kids who have to babysit their 4 younger siblings everyday after school while their single parent goes to work. And on the other side of the spectrum, you have a student who has to spend 3-4 hrs/day on homework before their overbearing and ever-present parents will let them do anything.

    Yet, you have a higher rate of Latinos/Blacks/other minorities in poorer neighborhoods, with single parents and a crappy educational system. Many of them believe that the way out of the neighborhood is not college, but to become a pro athlete (cultural prioritization), rapper, or sell drugs.

    Although it’s not a perfect solution, I support affirmative action. College admission should not be based only on a set of numbers. Life circumstances have a huge effect on those numbers. Affirmative action can overgeneralize on the basis of race and give a boost to an upperclass minority while not doing the same for a lowerclass caucasian.

    This ran longer than expected. /rant

    • I kind of disagree with you here. Ultimately, I think admissions should be based on merit. What did you do with your self before you applied to college? Were you a good student? Did you do volunteer work or do some awesome social benefit thing? Were you in the band or did you write bad poetry and put it in the school lit mag? Or hell, did you play sports? These are the things that really matter.

      I was a bad, socially awkward high school kid. I went to community college, pulled my weight, and was accepted to a four year because I got my act together. It wasn’t because I was a girl, or because I was extremely poor.

      I’m white, and I guess I can’t say one way or another if I would want affirmative action working in my favor. It isn’t written to apply to me. I guess I just believe that my accomplishments say more about me than what I look like.

      • “I guess I just believe that my accomplishments say more about me than what I look like.”

        You have the privilege that only white folks have to be judged for your accomplishments and generally seen as more than your skin color.

        White folks, please take a look at these articles to start to understand your white privilege. They were extremely helpful to me to realize my racial privilege and start conceptualizing it as something I have to be aware of and actively work against every day –

        Peggy McIntosh’s Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack

        And this blog:

      • It’s okay if you disagree, but I think you missed an important part of my argument. Some people just don’t have the time or money to volunteer, get into sports (if it’s even offered attheir school), etc. in order to make their college resume look better.

        Rising sports participation fees may prevent them from being on the team. The necessity of having an after-school job to help support the family will cut down the potential free time to volunteer and do other extracurricular things.

        Merit needs to be analyzed in relation to the environment and resources of the individual.

        I hate that affirmative action sometimes comes down to stereotypical minority statistics that frequently ignore outliers. But, IMO it’s better than nothing.

      • Really, how do you know you never benefitted from affirmative action? As a white woman, you are the most likely to benefit from it.

        And please, don’t act like America is some complete meritocracy. Untalented, lazy and sometimes plain stupid people like Bush Jr. get admitted to prestigious universities through nepotism, wealth, and having a social connections all the time. And race, class, and homophobia DO effect people’s life chances.

  7. Instead of minority youth being on the receiving end of power as we have historically done, we have to give them the power to control their own lives.
    That includes working hard to get into college just like any other ethnic group.

  8. @alaskanveggie – It’s not a matter of someone using their skin color to get ahead… it’s more a matter that their skin color and/or “non-european name” has typically been a major obstacle in the availability of opportunities for them. In the race for equality and success, history and the present show a system where minorities start at least 10 seconds behind, on a sprained leg and with the flu. We must be willing to acknowledge our weaknesses as a nation in order to be stronger, together. And I think it should go without saying that all children should be privy to the same fundamental resources like a good education, etc..

    Our future leaders should be as diverse as the present landscape of American society and without affirmative action, that likely won’t be the case.

  9. i think affirmitive action is a positive thing, and i just feel like the only way that something like affirmitive action becomes gratuitous is if *society* is race-blind, which is CLEARLY not the case.

    i know a lot of people think its just the government’s way of saying “sorry for all the things in the past tee-hee”, but there really is a need for this sort of policy. i also think that if a minority becomes overrepresented (ie aforementioned asians getting rejected) that it shouldnt be treated differently than if a school is overwhelmingly white. if it’s just a matter of representations that mimic the entire population, which seems like the best way of handling the situation imho, it feels less like some sort of “white people vs minorities” gift

  10. hey, great article. very informative. thanks for contextualizing the current case. I just have a question about a point you bring up in your closing paragraph. You write, “we can move towards a system that doesn’t hinge on a privileged majority granting or denying access to social or academic institutions to an underprivileged minority.” That sounds like a good idea, but I’m curious what some alternatives might be to the current admissions system.

    • I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, too, actually. Malcolm Gladwell wrote in “Getting In” (one of the essays I cited in the article) about college admissions in Canada — Gladwell is Canadian and he applied to Canadian colleges, where the college admissions system doesn’t have this crazy cultural prestige system that it has in the US. Here, people go crazy over if you went to Harvard, and there’s this idea that Ivy League schools are “the best” — a hierarchy, as Gladwell describes it, that’s just not a thing in Canada. I think that the college prestige system in America is really tied up in a boy’s club mentality — the notion that certain people are “good enough” to get in, and other people should be kept out — and this has really affected the way the educational system has developed over the years, especially when it comes to race and controlling people of color.

      Ideally, this “ideal” system would be something similar to Gladwell’s description, where colleges are equally respected (on the most part) and the education you receive from any college is respected, too — take this weight of prestige off of American colleges, and the pressure for students to get in to colleges / colleges to keep students out might be lessened. But the problem here I think is America’s racial / cultural history, which is impossible to separate from the educational system. It’s really difficult to say what this ideal situation will be like because of the culture that surrounds affirmative action and other race-based policies. You can’t really isolate and create an ideal racial atmosphere for minorities in college admissions when American history has been so charged with racism — most of these policies are reactions to the racism that has happened, in one way or another; they’re measures made in order to correct the racism that happened / the racism that is currently happening without actually dealing with the problem of institutional racism and structural inequality.

  11. A: How does this person even know that students admitted in her stead didn’t perform as well as she did?

    B: It’s simultaneously ridiculous and predictable that an entitled white person could make it to the supreme court crying racial discrimination. Maybe people shouldn’t be admitted to college until they open a book/get on wikipedia/ask their neighbor and learn what racism actually is.

  12. Thanks for writing such a great article about this. I just have so many feelings about affirmative action and it’s such a complicated subject, which you mentioned in your article. I actually just finished my college apps in early January, so affirmative action has definitely been something I’ve been thinking a lot about for the past two years.

    I’m half-Arab half-white, but the government considers Arab to fall under the category of white. I don’t agree with this for a lot of reasons, and since there is no way to mark Arab on college apps, I just put Other and explained my ethnicity in the Additional Comments section. So who knows if I would “benefit” from affirmative action. Also, I go to a school that’s about 80% Asian, and (understandably) most people at my school don’t like affirmative action, so I have heard a lot from my friends about how they view affirmative action from their perspective.

    I just. I have so many feelings about this ahhhhh! I completely support the thinking behind affirmative action, and I think a LOT of the reasons people have for not supporting it are total bull (like the white girl in this case), but at the same time, I don’t think affirmative action is totally perfect. But I definitely think we need something like it in place. I think getting rid of affirmative action and not creating something in its place would be a bad, bad idea.

    And then there’s the SAT, which is just total nonsense. If my parents hadn’t been able to afford the SAT course I took, my score would be a lot lower than it ended up being, which says a lot.

    I guess what I really want to say is that I really appreciated your article and what you had to say about the topic. It’s something I think about a lot, and you managed to vocalize a lot of things I’ve been thinking much better than I ever could have.

    • Thanks for sharing, Hana — I didn’t know that Arab was classified as “white” on college applications, which I think is another unfair example of which races count as “minorities” on college apps and which races don’t. I just have a lot of feelings about that, especially since the “Arab = white” thing is also likely stemming from a history of racism toward Arab/Americans. And the fact that college apps, while uncomfortably trying to classify people by race, don’t make an effort to list or acknowledge most races is really uncomfortable, too. There’s just so much tangled up in this I don’t even.

  13. I’m not American, but if I’m honest the whole idea of letting someone in on lower standards because of race just seems crap on everyone involved. Its unfair on the white/arab/asian/jewish whoever else doesn’t qualify but it seems equally condescending to the people who do qualify. We have a somewhat similar system here, but it works on whether you came from a disadvantaged area, race is irrelevant and I think thats much fairer

    • the standards aren’t lowered and the students of color or who are women getting in didn’t necessarily perform worse than others who might have taken their place. the point is to be more aware of the students applying and paying careful attention to applications of students who are women and/or of color.

      and if you look at the history of AA’s impact on schools, many of them just increased the number of seats at their school and filled them with students who are women and/or of color. this means none of these hypothetical people you speak of lost their seat (which is a really entitled way of thinking about things, which is so freakin wrong).

    • “I’m not American”….don’t you think it would behoove you to educate yourself about a topic before speaking about it? I mean, for real. And for your information, white women benefit the most from affirmative action. Do you think they’re being condscended to? And please, tell me how ignoring the race of applicants in a program crafted to combat discrimination in a RACIST society would work. Why would concentrating on solely on class be “fairer”? In a racist society, don’t you think race might end up having an effect on an a person’s earning potential, ability to get fair loans, access to housing, etc. and thus whether or not they end up living in an economically disadvantaged area? Even if they don’t reside in an econonically depressed area, don’t you think racial discrimination might effect them because they are living in a racist society? Do you live in a racially homogeneous country? Is that why you think race is so “irrelevent”?

  14. In my opinion, Affirmative Action has always been more about what a diverse student body can bring to a university as a whole. When discussing Affirmative Action, it’s easy to focus on the individual level, as the plaintiff here does. She feels that her test scores were higher than another student’s test scores who received admission, so she deserves admission as well. In focusing on test scores and GPA, however, she lost perspective on some of the larger goals of many academic centers.

    A world-class university in an exceptionally diverse state needs to remain diverse both to maintain a high-level of discourse within the student body, and to increase the number of new and different perspectives that can infuse uncommon ideas and priorities into every academic discipline. Not only that, but in order to remain competitive and contribute to a heterogenous society, universities will want to ensure they have academics that can represent and research the interests of many different populations within our society.

    Colleges are places where students come to meet new people, exchange ideas, and have old notions and faiths challenged through inquisitions and explorations with their peers. I volunteered for the admissions department at my school, and I know that we, along with many schools, prioritized diversity on campus for this reason. Additionally, fields as diverse as comparative literature and pharmacology depend on having students from diverse backgrounds to introduce new perspectives and pave new roads in research. A specific example that comes to mind is BiDil, a heart disease drug that is advertised as being more effective in African-Americans than in African people or Caucasian Americans. Just like you wouldn’t want a room heavily biased towards males discussing female birth control, you wouldn’t want African-Americans absent from the science end of researching, evaluating, and promoting such a drug. For this reason, it’s important for any academic institution to work to maintain a multicultural group of admits that reflects the many different populations said institution serves.

    In the end, it doesn’t matter if you’re Hispanic, queer, Asian, a lobster-fisherman, trans*, low-income, an olympic athlete, whatever. If it means you’ve had markedly different life experiences from the majority of the student body, you could contribute a new and overlooked perspective and thereby diversify the discourse in the halls of that school. To me, Affirmative Action is a way to maintain that crucial diversity in the face of institutional factors that limit the number of students of color applying to schools (as a former inner-city high school teacher this is a kind of a sore spot), and as such I support it.

    I’m definitely open to comments and I’d love to hear from more Autostraddlers. I’m a longtime reader and although I’ve never commented before, I’ve always been appreciative of the conscientious and thoughtful comments on this site!

    • Well said! I agree with just about everything you said.

      As learning institutions, universities should strive to create well-rounded and open-minded alumni. Although many undergrads would like to believe they’re grown up and independent individuals, oftentimes their ideologies and personalities are still being influenced by the environment around them.

      Campuses can be homogeneous bubbles that cut off students from considering real world issues such as diversity because it’s all but hidden from them because everyone looks like everyone else. As you stated, this can have a negative effect on discourse, research, social improvement, etc.

      Or campuses can try to reflect the diversity in the real world. This would best prepare their students to, not only be well-rounded in their careers, but also to be instruments for positive change in society.

    • I totally agree that college should be a place to meet people with different backgrounds and ideas from you, but Affirmative action was created as a reparations program to make up for the sins of the past and the legacy that they’ve created. I worry that when people see aa as a “diversity program,” they’re less likely to support it (which is stupid, obviously, because diversity is a good thing). And maybe it even undermines what aa really exists for because it erases our country’s deeply racist past. Either way, thanks for covering this, Whitney. It’s definitely a hard topic and I’m so proud that we’ve got a site where people can (mostly) have a thoughtful discussion about it.

  15. I am so riled up right now.

    When do I get to just slam my hands on a table and say “Stop taking things away from poc, stop trying to justify it. Stop trying to justify your actions, or your having a fit based on your misconception that poc somehow have it easier than you.”

    I want to slam my hands on a table, I want to not be having this conversation. I want for my head to not be swimming with justifications that I don’t think anyone deserves from me. These are tedious conversations. This feels unnecessary to me; worse than unnecessary it ripens pains that we as a people should be moving away from, not back into. How are we not on the same page yet? When are we going to be?

  16. Hey all,

    I’m quite impressed with the breadth and depth of discussion w/r/t Affirmative Action both in the article and folow-up comments. Numerous relevant points have been eaised here but I think that this larger conversation is missing a HUGE part of the puzzle which is Class Status.

    Cards on the table: I am a first-generation college graduate and went on to medical school as well…a statistical outlier if ever. As an American Indian woman I know for a fact I have benefitted from Affirmative Action and the reality is this; I could not have even opted out of consideration if I wanted to, there is no such mechanism for it. My academic record was ceretainly strong enough to get me into a few medical schools but I was not in the top 10% of my undergraduate class.

    However, I think an important piece of this policy discussion needs to include class and the economic realities inherent. I was not in the top 10% of my college class. But could I have been?–if I didn’t also work full-time from 4PM to 1AM every night while attending college full-time? Could my MCAT scores have been that much higher if I didn’t have to also work while studying for them? Or if I could have taken an expensive prep course beforehand?

    Our difficulty in discussing and reconciling Affirmative Action will continue, as it is quite charged and a loaded subject. But from one who has been in the thick of it through the years, I find it an incomplete discussion, if we do not also address the economic circumstances from which an individual applicant has arisen.

    btw, this is from the Association of American Medical Colleges:

    Underrepresented in Medicine Definition
    On March 19, 2004, the AAMC Executive Committee adopted a clarification to its definition of “underrepresented in medicine” following the Supreme Court’s decision in Grutter.

    The AAMC definition of underrepresented in medicine is:

    “Underrepresented in medicine means those racial and ethnic populations that are underrepresented in the medical profession relative to their numbers in the general population.”

  17. As an Asian American, I do not believe in affirmative action because it discriminates against my race. I live in the California bay area in a community that is 70% Asian and Indian American. Our highschool students are extremely focused and competitive, and 95% of our student body is very very serious about getting into colleges. Our public highschools are as academically taxing as private schools. The environment is extremely stressful on the day-to-day. Someone up thread said that asians are not known for doing extracurriculars, but that is a complete misnomer.
    For people that work so hard and take school so seriously, it is truly a shame to be held to a higher standard or to not get into a college compared to a person that did not work as hard purely because of ones’ skin color. The thought processes behind affirmative action is based on racial stereotyping and discrimination. It is easy for a white person to say they believe in affirmative action because it does not effect them negatively in any way; but you truly have to be one of the races adversely effected by AA to be able to understand its consequences. It’s like having white people speak for African American needs or straight people suppressing the LGBT community all over again

    • “or to not get into a college compared to a person that did not work as hard purely because of ones’ skin color.”

      Could you clarify who you think isn’t “working as hard” as you seem to believe you are? If you’re saying what I think you’re saying I’m going to leave this here for you. And suffice to say that different groups of people of color experience racism differently. You seriously don’t need to be the one referencing white people erroneously speaking about African American needs to make your point. It sounds duplicitous and disingeneous coming from someone who just made a flippant comment about people not working as hard they are and still getting over based on the color of their skin. The same sentence could be said about white upper crust WASPS but somehow I don’t think you were speaking about them.

      Myth 6: If Jewish people and Asian Americans can rapidly advance economically, African Americans should be able to do the same.

      This comparison ignores the unique history of discrimination against Black people in America. Over the past four centuries, Black history has included nearly 250 years of slavery, 100 years of legalized discrimination, and only 50 years of anything else. Jews and Asians, on the other hand, are populations that immigrated to North America and included doctors, lawyers, professors, and entrepreneurs among their ranks. Moreover, European Jews are able to function as part of the White majority. To expect Blacks to show the same upward mobility as Jews and Asians is to deny the historical and social reality that Black people face.

      Myth 10: Support for affirmative action means support for preferential selection procedures that favor unqualified candidates over qualified candidates.

      The strongest form of preferential selection occurs when unqualified female or minority members are chosen over other candidates who are qualified. Although affirmative action is sometimes mistakenly equated with this form of preferential treatment, federal regulations EXPLICITLY PROHIBIT (emphasis mine) affirmative action programs in which unqualified or unneeded employees are hired (Electronic Code of Federal Regulations, 2011).

      These myths are from the same article I linked to above. And just to let you know, I’m black and I’m in favor of affirmative action or something like it. While it’s definitely not perfect and it probably needs to be tweaked, America is a racist and sexist country that is NOT a complete meritocracy. I believe there should be a some kind of social program that addresses discrimination so that people of color and women at least have more CONSIDERATION for admittance to colleges or being hired for jobs, where they previously would not have been SERIOUSLY considered or looked AT ALL.

      • I understand what you’re saying. I’m inputting my Asian American viewpoint on Affirmative Action. You are African American, so you come from a different background and AA would therefore effect you in a way different than it would effect me. Are you saying that because African Americans were historically discriminated against, then we can give Asian Americans a turn to be the discriminated group this time around? The system is not efficient if it disadvantages one group even if it benefits another. Again, I understand what you are saying, but the program needs to be fixed if it remains flawed in such a way, and that is what this article is saying.

        • Look at my previous comment. I’ve never said that I wanted Asians to be discriminated against. I believe you are positing that patently unqualified black and brown people are being admitted over qualified asians and that’s false. No one totally unqualified can get into college or get a job through affirmative action. In fact, in my previous comments I’ve noted that the people who are benefitting from affirmative action the most are white women, not me as a black woman, or black people at all, so of course I think the program needs to be fixed. But gotten rid of? I don’t think so. I believe there needs to be a social program that corrects for institutional racism and sexism in college admissions and for jobs.

          • First of all, let me say that I am glad there are some folks out there who are discussing this issue. (Dr. Helen and DADvocate are the ones on my paonrsel reading list…)But I really think there is far too much emphasis put on the ‘pc culture’ and Title IX being at fault for the dearth of men in college.First and foremost, you’re going to have to deal with the anti-intellectual culutre that comes from men that is an equvalent to male on male crime. This starts in elementary school (or at least it did in mine), as quick learners were identified as the geeks and that was that. Grades mattered to them and didn’t seem to matter to other boys, who seemed far more interested in playing sports. Dads seemed far more interested in their sons’ little league teams then they were interested in their grades. We had far too few “renaissance men” whose parents encouraged both good grades and sports interaction.The little monsters we had to deal with (bullies) came after the geeks instead of the jocks because the jocks knew how to use baseball bats.Second, you have to look at the island/penitentiary that is today’s public high school. Block scheduling and hand wringing has cut high schools off from any element that shows high school boys that there is a world beyond graduation that they are going to have to be a part of.Third, and probably the most imporant (in my experience) deferred rewards. You can make a ton of cash working in construction, computers or the food service industry right out of high school (at least where I live). College classes just get in the way. If you do choose to get a degree, you’re not going to see the results of that for several years, you’re going to spend valuable resources and time on those classes and oftentimes they are classes with no real explanation of why you have to take them (if I had Pre-Calculus in High School, why do I have to take Algebra again in college?).In my experience, this deferred reward is far more chafing to men than it is to women. Scholarships are difficult to maintain, student loans are today’s equivalent of indentured servitude and even if Mommy and Daddy pay for the whole thing, you’re still rolling out with credit card debt.Triple this if you go straight to grad school (or have maintained the grades to do so), double the difficulty level of getting back in if you want to take a few years off and work down some of the debt (or maybe just have a little fun), triple the difficulty if you are a man who wants to start a family at a young age.Then there is the social pressure for a man to be ‘independent’ and take care of himself both through college and immediately afterwards. An entry level salary can barely keep up, so a lot of folks end up back in the food service industry: my roomate has no degree and waits tables. He makes at least twice as much as I do a year.When I was working in food service (immediately out of college) I was making (as a beginner) factory level wages, and was offered management of a restaurant. I could have done the same at 18 without college. Working in promotions (a job whose skills could be acquired in a garage band) I could be making 6 figures a year right now. I could have done that at 18 without college. 2 friends of mine have dropped out of college to work with computers, they make more than me and their degree holding wives. Another friend dropped out of college to work as a journalist, and went back later when he was making enough money at his job to take classes.Why go jump through the hoops that is college in the first place?

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