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Affirmative Action should prioritize socioeconomic factors

Art by Hannah Singer

As the Nov. 1 early deadline for college admissions approaches, affirmative action is becoming an increasingly relevant issue for high school seniors and their families.

The controversy over affirmative action and race-based admissions in college applications has reached the Supreme Court, which will rule on two related cases on Oct. 31. 

A nonprofit organization, Students for Fair Admissions, has filed lawsuits against Harvard University and the University of North Carolina with the goal of abolishing all affirmative action, claiming that these schools’ admissions policies discriminate against Asian American applicants.

Amid the pending SFFA v. Harvard and SFFA v. UNC lawsuits, The Campanile thinks the Supreme Court should side with Harvard and UNC and uphold the use of affirmative action in college admissions.

The decades-long controversy of affirmative action stems from the goal of righting the wrongs of our nation’s past. Historically, affirmative action was first implemented to help integrate African Americans into the workforce after centuries of implicit and explicit oppression.

Today, students of color are still discriminated against in many aspects of society, including higher education. By increasing accessibility to a college education for students of color, affirmative action in college admissions helps to balance the playing field and alleviate this disparity.

However, the lawsuits brought by SFFA do nothing to mitigate this inequality. SFFA contends that high-achieving students, specifically those of Asian backgrounds, are disadvantaged by affirmative action. This group cites research from Duke University economics professor Peter Arcidiacono who found that the number of Asian Americans accepted at that school would increase by 16% without race-based admissions.

SFFA fails to acknowledge that high achievement in students often correlates with family wealth. Marginalized groups such as Black and Latino communities often start with fewer resources, which can impair their ability to reach higher achievement.

According to the National Association of Secondary School Principals, “Students living in poverty often have fewer resources at home to complete homework, study or engage in activities that helps equip them for success during the school day.” As a result, such students are often at a disadvantage in the college admissions process when compared to more affluent students.

Furthermore, through the inequalities between racial groups, we must realize institutionalized racism has already become so ingrained in American society that simple Band-Aid solutions of reallocating educational opportunities by race are insufficient for resolving existing problems of equity.

Instead, The Campanile believes affirmative action should focus more on intersectionality. While we should continue striving for greater equity among demographic groups, we must understand the disparity of opportunities even within these groups. For instance, just because a student is Asian does not mean they fit neatly into the model minority myth.

Rather than focusing on race, affirmative action in college admissions should place more emphasis on all of the aspects that comprise a student’s educational situation, including gender identity and income. The term “diversity” should not be limited to racial diversity.

Diversity and equity remain the fundamental goal of affirmative action, and because numerous studies have pointed out the importance of diversity in higher education, The Campanile recognizes diversity has long-term benefits for all students. A study by John Hopkins University’s Project MUSE found that immersing in a diverse college learning environment has a “positive, indirect effect on personal growth, purpose in life, recognition of racism and volunteer work 13 years after graduation.”

SFFA lawsuits push for equality through merit, but they do not acknowledge that unequal opportunities make a meritocracy inherently unequal. While there is no clear solution to the affirmative action controversy, The Campanile believes affirmative action in some form is necessary. Ultimately, as we continue to push for equity, our discourse will guide us toward a more diverse and equitable future, and affirmative action should be a part of that journey.

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