Stop Belittling Affirmative Action Applicants


Thursday, March 27, 2014—the date that Ivy League college admissions decisions are sent to thousands of high school seniors across the country. For the majority of students, it is a day of disappointment and reevaluation. For some, it is a day of excitement and imagination. For one Long Island senior, it was a day of astonishment. Kwasi Enin, a senior at William Floyd High School, was accepted into all eight Ivy Leagues, an extremely rare accomplishment. Unfortunately, people across the country are brushing it aside because he has two “hooks” in the college process: Many commentators declared that Enin was accepted solely because he is black and a “first-gen” college student whose parents emigrated from Ghana—implying that otherwise, he is an unqualified applicant.  

Affirmative action has been an extremely contested topic for nearly 40 years now. Recently, the Supreme Court upheld affirmative action at University of Texas at Austin. Fordham, along with a number of other Jesuit institutions, issued a statement in support of their affirmative action policies. The Rev. Joseph M. McShane, S.J. wrote a personal defense of the policy: “[Fordham tries] to develop in our students an understanding of, and reverence for, cultures and ways of life other than their own. We believe that such an understanding and reverence cannot be achieved absent a truly multiracial, multicultural student body.” But while Fordham is committed to diversifying its student body by considering race in the admissions process, we do little to nothing to educate our students about affirmative action.

“Microaggression” has recently become a popular term in the media. In the past few months, Fordham student Kiyun Kim gained national attention for photographing a series of racist comments students experience daily. A recent project at Harvard, titled “I, Too, Am Harvard” highlighted microaggressions caused specifically by the perception that minority students did not truly earn their spots on campus. These minority students are joining the conversation on racism at elite institutions and refusing to allow the silence to continue.

Fordham has a responsibility to listen to minority students and, in turn, educate all students on the meaning and purpose of affirmative action. A quick glance at comments on news articles and Facebook shows that many people have a warped perception of affirmative action. This affects their judgment and behavior toward students who are perceived to unfairly benefit from affirmative action. One Reddit commenter echoed the statements of many others: “I’m gonna get real with you…[Enin] would not have had this absurd success if he was a white kid.” Many Fordham students hold these same opinions on affirmative action.

People believe that affirmative action allows unqualified minority students into top universities, ignoring their accomplishments and subjecting them to constant judgment and offensive behavior. Yet, top universities receive applications from far more qualified students than they can admit. Every student at these top schools deserves to be there. It does not matter whether one believes schools should try to diversify and help systematically disadvantaged students through affirmative action or not. Every student deserves to be given the same quality experiences once they start to attend these schools.

In addition, people tend to ignore the basic premise of affirmative action. In our society, minorities are systematically disadvantaged. Affirmative action aims to level the playing field for all students once their applications are in the admissions office. The goal is not to unfairly advantage minorities but to allow them to have a fair chance. However, people insist that racism no longer exists and admission should be based on pure merit, but a quick survey of the education system shows that racism is still very prevalent today.

The assumption that students do not deserve to be at a university because of their race amounts to abuse, according to John McWhorter, a linguistics professor at Columbia University. At the bare minimum, Fordham needs to reach out to students who have felt these real offenses and publicly support them. Ultimately, Fordham should create an education program, with the help of these minority students, which could possibly be administered during New Student Orientation.

In order to correct the microaggressions that can make deserving, qualified students feel like they do not belong, Fordham needs to change at the administrative level. Though schools have been brought to court over affirmative action, few schools have responded to the related microagressions. The answer is not to abandon the policy, as some might suggest. The answer is to support these minority students and educate all students on the reasoning behind affirmative action. Because once students like Kwasi Enin received an offer of admission to their dream school, nobody should belittle their accomplishments or make them feel as if they don’t belong.