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Affirmative Action

September 22, 2023 at 4:00:00 PM

Samuel Zhao '24

Affirmative Action, initially aimed to address historical and current injustices and inequalities, now enables race-based preferential treatment in education and employment. This policy was designed to try to resolve discrimination and improve social mobility, but it has only reinforced these trends. Affirmative Action covers many aspects of society; this article will focus on education aspect. 


First of all, we need to question the purpose of government involvement in education. The reason why the government funds education is to provide social mobility in the hopes of a strong civil society and to maintain a strong workforce. Both concepts suggest the idea of meritocracy, an ideology that focuses on an individual’s skills, abilities, and qualifications. While Affirmative Action grants certain races preferential treatment, it undermines the notion of rewarding the most qualified individuals, working against the purpose of education, economic principles, and the rationale for the government to fund education. 


While the fundamental notion of Affirmative Action is to offer underprivileged groups an equal chance, by this logic it makes generalizations about particular races, reinforcing stereotyped assumptions. Individuals cannot be defined as being at a disadvantage simply based on the inherent trait of race. Rather, other parts of one’s background, such as socioeconomic status, are better metrics by which to judge and provide individuals fair competition. For example, two college applicants share much more in common based on a shared zip code than a shared racial background.

The overemphasis on race used in Affirmative Action might cause “elite capture,” which is when minority individuals from an affluent background benefit from privilege since they are counted as “disadvantaged,” making them more likely to receive greater financial aid. Statistics from the Brookings Institute show that following Affirmative Action, schools still preferred those coming from affluent backgrounds, not giving those who truly need financial help a fair chance. 

Elite capture contrasts with the purpose of Affirmative Action, which is to provide means for the disadvantaged to improve their livelihood through education. In this way, schools are not truly helping to improve social and economic mobility. A better alternative to considering race in admissions would be to use socioeconomic status as a factor, grouping applicants into different economic classes, acknowledging the benefits that are accrued with wealth, and selecting students for admission based on merit and accomplishments accordant with opportunities given. In this way, society will offer students an equal chance, fulfilling the purpose of education and rewarding hard work. 

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