Affirmative action programs are a thorny issue, but ultimately it helps both individuals and the university as a whole.
While moderate uses of affirmative action in public universities that do not involve concrete quotas or points for admission were upheld in 2003 in Grutter v. Bollinger, the topic remains ever controversial.
But, no court decision will ever determine whether affirmative action is actually good policy. That question must be settled through enlightened discussion and empathy for the plight of others.
At the heart of affirmative action are two distinct but related goals: to increase diversity at universities and give the historically underprivileged a chance at future success. While the goal of increasing diversity among the student population is rarely a bone of contention, the goal of countering the effects of past discrimination is more controversial.
Some liken affirmative action to reverse discrimination, others, to preferential treatment. However, people always misrepresent the practice.
Under the rules set by Grutter, one’s race or nationality — among other things — can only be a partial factor in the public university admissions process. Yet critics often make it appear as if colleges look at one’s race and immediately decide whether or not to admit a student — that is unconstitutional.
Regardless, affirmative action is an appropriate way of combating centuries of discrimination against minorities. Often, these groups face socioeconomic challenges simply not experienced by most whites.
I would be more impressed with a minority high school graduate receiving a 3.5 GPA than a white student with a 3.7 GPA, not because minorities are in any way less capable than whites, but because that minority student indubitably went through more challenges to receive that 3.5.
As any student of statistics can tell you, there is a chance for anything to happen, such as the possibility for anyone to succeed. But it is not about possibility; it is about reality.
Underrepresented minorities are termed that because people have realized the makeup of the total university population does not reflect the ratio of minorities in the overall population.
No matter that blacks were held as slaves for centuries, no matter that the University of Texas, which is involved in an affirmative action case in the Supreme Court, was segregated for the first 70 years of its existence. What matters is a problem still exists of underrepresentation of minorities in colleges. And that problem is best solved through affirmative action.
We as a society must face the fact that discrimination still exists, from the woman whose guidance counselor tells her to study biology rather than engineering to the black student who is told to attend a two-year community college rather than the prestigious state university.
Minorities are as talented as anyone else, but their talent must be nurtured and cultivated. Affirmative action in universities assures these underrepresented groups have that chance to realize their potential.
On a different note, one thing I have never seen talked about in the affirmative action discussion is the effect of the personal essay on college admissions.
Sure, it may not be as important as the GPA credentials of certain applicants, but we are often told by admissions counselors that the personal essay can separate “great” candidates from “good” candidates.
So, before you complain — as Abigail Fisher did in the UT Supreme Court case — that someone with grades lower than yours was admitted instead of you, acknowledge the very real possibility that that person might have written a better personal essay than yours.