Affirmative action does not provide diversity of thought nor help the minorities it purports to aid
Affirmative action has been a controversial policy ever since President Kennedy’s Executive Order 10925 first implemented it in March 1961. In its present form it represents the policies of educational institutions to consider race as a factor in their admissions process. The Supreme Court ruled in Regents of the University of California v. Bakke (1978) that using a quota system — or setting aside a set number of places for a certain race — is unconstitutional, but institutions had a legitimate interest in “diversity” to warrant considering race a factor in admissions. This opinion was upheld later in Grutter v. Bollinger (2003).
But let us set aside the questionable constitutionality of affirmative action for a moment.
There are three reasons why it should be abolished as a policy: It perpetuates subtle racism; it can actually harm those it purports to help; and it mistakenly over-emphasizes the value of racial diversity and the need for a policy to enforce such diversity.
Counter-intuitively, affirmative action can actually encourage racism. The benefits of a totally meritocratic system is that perceptions among students are healthier; if it is widely known that every student earned his or her spot at a university without special advantages, then students view each other with respect and mutual admiration. But most schools practice affirmative action. The result is that students from races known to benefit from such policies — primarily black and Latino students — are often viewed as “undeserving” of their spots at a university. In giving special advantages to any group, race-based or otherwise, a policy will tend to perpetuate the opinion that members of that group cannot succeed without outside help. When special advantages are prominently bestowed upon racial groups, the natural result is subtle, and often unacknowledged, racism.
Richard Sander and Stuart Taylor, Jr., in their Wall Street Journal article “The Unraveling of Affirmative Action,” illustrate this fact through the example of Jareau Hall, a black student who enrolled at Colgate University in 2002. “I was immediately stereotyped and put into a box because I was African-American. And that made it harder to perform…” Hall said. “There was a general feeling that all blacks on campus were there either because they were athletes or they came through a minority-recruitment program and might not really belong there.” It is an uncomfortable subject, made harder to illustrate because so few will admit to such bias, but affirmative action polices only make the problem worse.
In this same article, Sander and Taylor help to illustrate the second reason why affirmative action is unsound: By giving significant preferences to students because of race, colleges can be setting up these very same students to fail. The authors found that 80 percent of blacks and more than 60 percent of Hispanics at selective schools have received “the equivalent of a 100-point SAT boost (or more)” in their admissions process. The result has sometimes been cases like Hall’s — feeling unprepared for the rigor of courses and cowed by the expectations, the students struggle to keep up with their courses, occasionally dropping out. Moreover, a 1996 study by Rogers Elliot of Dartmouth showed that black and Hispanic high school seniors were more likely than their white peers to aim for careers in science or technology; however, whites are seven times more likely to actually end up in such fields. Elliot, Sander and Taylor offer an explanation: When students are “mis-matched” at schools and end up struggling as a result, they lose confidence in themselves and switch out of their original courses of study. When we look at affirmative action, we have to examine critically how it actually affects those it targets. The picture is not so rosy as it seems.
Finally, one must take issue with the prevailing notions that diversity of race automatically means diversity of opinion. When pressed for why a racially diverse campus is beneficial, proponents of affirmative action fumble around awkwardly with notions of “differing viewpoints” and “a melting pot of ideas.” But isn’t it time we stop conflating race with opinion?
Plenty of people of different races hold the same opinions, carry the same values and think the same way; while, conversely, members of the same race can be ideologically opposed. If we are ever going to reach a point where race is actually inconsequential to our understanding of humanity, it will have to start by learning to see people by what they believe and where they are most passionate, not by comforting ourselves with notions of “diversity” when we are simply categorizing students by the color of their skin.
Affirmative action should be able to stand up to strict scrutiny of both its philosophical premise and its pragmatic effects in order to warrant implementation. It is my belief that it can no longer do so, and it must therefore be abandoned as a policy.
Russell Bogue is a Viewpoint writer for The Cavalier Daily.