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  • David Sipos

Affirmative Action Was Unfair; It Was Still Good For Everyone

Credits: David Sipos

Over the summer, the Supreme Court ruled that affirmative action — the policy of factoring race into college admissions — was unconstitutional. Since the 1978 case University of California v. Bakke, the Supreme Court had held race-conscious admissions to be permissible and many colleges have practiced them to increase diversity among their admitted students.

The end of affirmative action will result in less diverse higher education. This is an unacceptable impact.

As a white person from a middle-income family, the end of affirmative action should benefit me on paper. Statistically, prohibiting race-conscious admissions would increase my chances of admission to top schools. It follows that I should view the end of affirmative action as a benefit to me.

I write this editorial to my peers who believe this fallacy. The American populace is unusually conservative on this topic. In a CBS poll before the Court issued its ruling, 70% of respondents said colleges should not be allowed to consider race, including 48% of liberals and 74% of white people.

That 74% sees that marginal disadvantage as enough to oppose affirmative action. Even many white liberals lend their support to affirmative action only begrudgingly, placing their beliefs in racial equality above their personal desires. This opposition is rational, but it reflects a narrow understanding of the purpose of college.

I believe that affirmative action is good for all of us, and I ask that my fellow white peers look beyond just college acceptance. I ask that they reexamine what they seek to gain from attending college.

For most students, attending college is their first time living outside of their hometown. We’ll spend four years surrounded by people from across the country — people with backgrounds, life experiences, and perspectives vastly different from our own. These new perspectives are fundamental to the nature of college. They set it apart from just a way to get a better job. Encountering new people and new beliefs will make us more informed, more considerate, and better people.

All of us should embrace college as an opportunity to broaden our cultural understanding. It is incumbent upon us as citizens that we do not overlook the importance of multicultural interaction in college. I believe many of my fellow white students understand this.

But essential to meeting a diverse range of people is, well, the presence of those people. When top selective schools — where Walls students are most likely to apply and attend — end affirmative action, their racial makeup becomes decisively whiter and less diverse.

Take the example of the University of California (UC) system. After a voter referendum banned affirmative action in the 90s, diversity at UC schools plummeted. At UCLA and UC Berkeley, enrollment of Black and Latino students fell by 40 percent. Twenty five years later, UC schools still haven’t been able to meet their target of a student body that reflects the diversity of graduating high school students.

This is naturally bad for the thousands of Black and Latino students who are shunted into lower-quality schools and see worse economic outcomes, or, worse, choose not to attend college at all — one result of California’s referendum, according to researchers at UC Berkeley. Yet this either does not get through or does not convince the majority of white students of the value of affirmative action.

So I ask these students to do something unusual now: be selfish. Think about how the homogenization of college will affect you. Consider what is lost: the people we’ll never meet, the experiences we’ll never understand, just because we wanted to up our admission chances by a couple points. College swallowed in a sea of sameness.

If I wanted to spend four years around wealthy white people, I would simply apply for a membership at a country club. Instead, I support affirmative action, in the hopes that college can truly be a place of diverse perspectives, for everyone to benefit and learn from.

I write this editorial to do more than simply change minds.

Race conscious admissions took hold in the aftermath of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King. A chorus of students called upon colleges to increase their efforts at racial diversity. Weeks later, Harvard announced such efforts and other schools followed. As a result, Black enrollment nearly doubled the following year.

Students created affirmative action. We made the decades of progress in diversifying colleges possible. Now it is up to us again – all of us. No one demographic or organization will restore affirmative action (or some equivalent). Only our collective voices can do that.


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