For an alternative viewpoint, please see: Counterpoint: Is it Time to Reassess Affirmative Action?
If there were ever a time to be alarmed by the state of our nation’s civil rights in the 21st century, it would be now.
Upon Justice Anthony Kennedy’s impending retirement from the Supreme Court at the end of this month, President Trump has named Brett Kavanaugh as the nominee to replace him. Kennedy, albeit a moderate conservative, was a supporter of affirmative action, voting to uphold consideration of race in higher education to promote diversity. Kavanaugh, in contrast, wrote an amicus brief on behalf of the Center for Equal Opportunity, a group that opposes race-based affirmative action in college admissions.
Earlier this month, Trump reversed the very Obama-era guidance that encouraged universities to consider race as a factor during the enrollment process — policies that sought to diversify schools, giving minorities a chance at the quality education they are so often denied.
In essence, Trump’s move is a quasi-rescinding of affirmative action, but his administration says they are simply championing race-blind admissions standards. However, in 2018, to be race blind means to be intentionally blind to the many inequities facing people of color. To be race-blind means to be so shrouded in your own privilege that you believe that same privilege is extended to every person in the United States. It is not.
In fact, this administration is far from race blind. Make no mistake, President Trump sees race, as his policies seem to favor only people who are like him — rich or white, more points if they are both. Some people who fall into these categories unreasonably view affirmative action as a threat. Let’s be clear: Affirmative action is not an affront to white students, rather, it is a legal initiative to even the playing field for all Americans, not just rich white men with access to opportunities of which many can only dream.
Unfortunately, much of the aversion to affirmative action is a result of misinformation. A popular misconception is that affirmative action targets only African-Americans. This is categorically false. Women, Native Americans, Asian-Americans, Latinx and many other minorities face the barriers that affirmative action aims to break down.
In fact, white women have historically been affirmative action’s largest group of beneficiaries — a fact that is astonishing since white women have challenged affirmative action the most in the courts.
Another misconception is that affirmative action rewards unqualified applicants at the expense of more qualified people. In fact, Justice Antonin Scalia once argued against affirmative action, saying it did more harm than good for African-American students because it put them in elite institutions for which they weren’t prepared — despite studies showing there is no evidence for such a claim.
Affirmative action has been one of the best tools in ensuring that minorities get a fair chance at the quality education they deserve, and without it, our schools will continue to be disproportionately whitewashed. According to Vox, 84 percent of college students in the United States were white in 1976 compared to only 60 percent in 2012 — making it far more likely that those who benefitted the most from legacy college admissions practices are white.
In addition, a study by the Chronicle of Higher Education reviewed 30 elite universities’ admissions processes and found that a legacy connection gave an applicant a 23.3 percentage point advantage over a non-legacy applicant, and if the parent was an alum, the advantage jumped to 45.5. Such advantage shows just how uneven the playing field is for people of color, many of whom were unable to establish such legacies since segregation barred their parents and grandparents from attending such institutions.
We are in the saddest of times where diversity is being rebuked at every level. We’ve seen it in the types of people appointed to our nation’s highest offices. We’ve seen it in the countries President Trump would rather have immigrants from, and now, our kids may be forced to see it when schools begin to follow this latest guidance. Judging by the current political climate, now is simply not the time to do away with affirmative action. We are far from an America where equality is the norm for all people, in fact with a more conservative Supreme Court, many of our recent victories in human and civil rights are in jeopardy.
If we abandon affirmative action at this critical juncture in present-day America, we will effectively be using tools from a marred past to dim the light on our children’s futures.