The Paradox of Affirmative Action Based on Diversity

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By JONATHAN MILOHNIC
Staff Writer
Published: March 6, 2015

Abigail Fisher, who was denied acceptance to the University of Texas’ Austin campus in 2008, has brought her case to the Supreme Court for a second time. In 2008, Fisher claimed that the University of Texas violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The University of Texas’ admission process is straightforward: they accepted the top 10 percent of every graduating class from each school in Texas. Applicants who are not in the top 10 percent of their class then compete for the remaining admission spots (approximately 1,000). This is where the university considers race, extracurricular activities, the personal essay and other factors. The 5th Circuit ruled in favor of the University of Texas’ consideration of race in the college acceptance process. The decision was appealed to the Supreme Court where in 2013 a 7-1 (Justice Kagan removed herself from the case) ruling remanded the case back to the 5th Circuit. At the second hearing the 5th Circuit once again ruled in favor of the University of Texas seeing no issue with their holistic approach to accepting a diverse freshman class.

Affirmative action, which was introduced over 50 years ago, was put into a place via executive order to prevent discrimination in the hiring process, which was needed at the time. It was a way of mending race-relations together, as a country. Today, these issues are not as predominant as they were; diversity is more widely accepted—becoming, in many cases, the rationale for affirmative action—and discrimination is much less common.

In the original Supreme Court hearing, the University of Texas’ lawyer, Gregory Garre, was asked by the Justices to define ethnicity. Questioning whether or not being a quarter or an eighth Latino would allow someone to check the Latino box on his or her application, Garre was unable to sufficiently respond to this question, stating that applicants were entitled to self-identity. This raises an anthropological question: how do we define ethnicity? Is ethnicity what we personally feel we identify with? Is it the color of our skin? Is it based off of our bloodlines? Or is ethnicity based off of our cultural background? Most importantly, how are these colleges defining ethnicity and why is it not standardized? The term ethnicity is quite general, and thus open to interpretation.

Affirmative action has become somewhat synonymous with the word diversity amongst college admissions offices. You cannot argue that diversity is a bad thing because it’s beneficial for all, whether it be racial diversity, political diversity or anything in between. However, should diversity be a reason for accepting someone to a university at a lower standard? It should not be. There are plenty of people from all walks of life with similar credentials applying to the same universities, which allows diversity to occur naturally—just like it should. Placing a quota on how many people from each subset you wish to enroll should not come at the price of allowing someone with fewer accomplishments and lesser credentials to be accepted to a university over someone who is white. Due to this, “mismatching,” in which a student is accepted to a university and is not necessarily qualified or academically prepared to attend, occurs, often resulting in these students dropping out of college. A UCLA law professor, Richard Sanders, proved this mismatching theory. Sanders found that there was a lack of black lawyers due to admitting black students to top tier schools (due to their race) when they were not academically prepared. Sanders attributed mismatching to affirmative action.

Affirmative action seems like it is similar to putting blinders on a horse: it only sees straight ahead, but in this case, affirmative action can only see color. It does not see your socio-economic situation, nor does it see the standing of your pervious schooling. If we are only to look at the color of someone’s skin and expect less of them than we would a white person, are we implying that due to the color of your skin, you are assumed to be less intelligent than someone who is white? We live in a society where we are constantly bombarded with the currently catchy expression “colorblindness.” If those calling for colorblindness truly want this, then why are they not fighting to get rid of affirmative action, something that is the antithesis of colorblindness?

It is time for affirmative action—at least the kind of affirmative action we have today, based on abstract notions of ethnicity and diversity—to go. It is dated and seems to promulgate racial divides. We live in a great country based on the principle that if you work hard, you will be rewarded. We are a country built off of immigrants. People who came here poor, struggled to provide for themselves and their families, but determined to give themselves and their families a better life. Yes, some failed, but many succeeded. The opportunity and the resources to succeed and better yourself exist, it’s just a matter of having the drive and desire to seek them out and the color of your skin does not determine that.