Affirmative action continues to spark debate in college admissions

Illustration by Khang Do.

By Elise Tran, staff writer 

With college applications coming up, admission readers are getting prepared to face thousands of college student hopefuls. Students present themselves so admission readers can see potential through their essays, application and recommendations. But with just a simple checkmark in the race section, it may have an affect on a student’s likelihood of getting admitted through affirmative action.

Affirmative action, policies that favor those who suffer discrimination, is used by colleges in order to increase diversity in schools. It was created to provide opportunities for students who may experience prejudice, conflict or lack of resources in order to level the playing field. In order to do so, colleges began to offer more financial aid and outreach programs for minority students as well as reserving spots.

Many minorities support this as it gives them a higher chance of being accepted into a university. One reasoning made for affirmative action is the use of taxes from minorities, specifically African-Americans and Hispanics.

Earl Hutchinson, a proponent of affirmative action, said, “[African-American and Hispanic parents] are forced to pay for educational services and advantages in higher education that white students get and their children are denied.”

First enforced in 1965, President Lyndon Johnson issued executive order 11246, requiring government contractors to highly consider minority employees when hiring. This idea relayed into university admissions and unraveled into what we have today.

However, people who are against affirmative action argue that colleges prioritize certain ethnicities or sex over academic performance and extracurricular involvement.

Eight states, including California, have banned affirmative action as of February 2015. In 1996, proposition 209 passed in California, getting rid of the policy to prohibit any ethnicity, race or gender becoming a factor for admissions.

Supporters of the proposition, David Lehrer and Joe Hicks, wrote, “Our argument then, as now, was that granting preferences on the basis of race and ethnicity was wrong and that, ultimately, in a bias-free environment, students would figure out what had to be done and would qualify for admission on their merits.”

Arguments were still raised against this proposition and essentially in favor of affirmative action.

“The brutal reality is that Proposition 209 is a relic of a time past when the relentless attack on affirmative action was a sneaky, and malicious way to maintain a racially discriminatory, two tiered education system that blatantly excluded Black and Latino students,” said Hutchinson.

Certain situations in regards to affirmative action has even been brought up to as high as the Supreme court.

In 2014, a group against affirmative action, Students for Fair Admissions, filed a complaint against Harvard stating that the university should not base admissions on race and ethnicity under the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and that the school was deliberately limiting the number of Asian Americans allowed to attend the school.

The complaint read, “Statistical evidence reveals that… it holds Asian Americans to a far higher standard than other students and essentially forces them to compete against each other for admission.”

In February 2015, Harvard filed a response claiming the allegations were false and there was no discrimination. The following year, the Supreme Court kept the school’s affirmative action policies.

The debate on the ethics of affirmative action within universities is still ongoing.