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Lights, Camera, No Action?

January 27, 2023 at 5:00:00 PM

Anish Shrestha '24

On our highly driven campus, anxiety naturally rises when discussions of college come up during lower-middle year. References to early decision, the CommonApp, and SATs are all tossed around apprehensively. Yet one word (or two actually) currently dominate national headlines: affirmative action. 

Recently the Supreme Court heard the cases SSFA v. Harvard and SSFA v. UNC, and now the future of affirmative action lies in the hands of a predominantly Republican-controlled court. Legal analysts are already forecasting the program’s imminent demise by the next application cycle. If you’re worried about what this might mean for you as a prospective applicant, I’m certain your college counselor can advise you better than I ever could; I’m here to discuss why affirmative action requires revision and how it is indicative of America’s systemic pattern of socioeconomic and racial inequality. 

As the plaintiffs in the Harvard and UNC cases, Students for Fair Admissions (SFFA) has acclaimed nationwide attention as a nonprofit representing predominantly Asian and Pacific Islander Americans. Under Executive Order, John F. Kennedy established "affirmative action to ensure that applicants are treated equally without regard to race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.” Whereas affirmative action was intended to grant total equality irrespective of race or color, the  students in the case feel that they’ve been wrongly denied in favor of other underrepresented minorities. In supposed alignment with the original principles of the civil rights movement, SFFA argues that “a student’s race and ethnicity should not be factors that either harm or help that student to gain admission to a competitive university.” In layman’s terms, their allegation is the same affirmative action used to protect the equality of all minorities is now pitting opposing racial minorities against each other for spots at elite schools.  

Completely repealing affirmative action would detract from decades of progress in racial, gender, and socioeconomic representation in higher education. Considering that there is a historic correlation between socioeconomic status and race, one could say that the two go hand-in-hand. As a consequence of xenophobia and systemic racism, issues like redlining and city funding deficits have prevented generations of people of color from accessing quality education. Affirmative action has simply been used to paper over the cracks. What we really need, however, is to reform affirmative action to rest on the grounds of socioeconomic status as a whole and not entirely on race. If need-based admissions take precedence over race-blind admissions, then college campuses stand to benefit from a plurality in the student body that feature all kinds of walks of life crossing race, creed, and political orientation. 

Even with government measures such as the No Child Left Behind Act, public schools are still struggling to bridge the gap between underprivileged and upper-class education. With the plethora of educational opportunities available in public, private, charter, boarding, and home schooling, a universal education system is seemingly impossible. Nonetheless, we still must invest more in public education to level the playing field for the sake of equity and the future of the nation. That being said, affirmative action (as it is) only puts a measly bandage on the nation’s deep wounds caused by the systemic oppression of minorities. It’s about time we have a serious conversation about the equity of the American education system from K through 12 rather than just about the end product of the college admissions process. 

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