It’s time to move past race-based affirmative action

By Marlo Safi / For The Pitt News

As a member of one of the smallest minorities in the U.S., Syrian, I resent the implications of affirmative action. I have immense pride in my heritage, but I resent the notion that I am inept and need assistance to compete with other students because of my race. 

I am not suggesting we do away with affirmative action. I am proposing we reform it. The issue is not in race, but socioeconomics.

Earlier this month, attorneys for a former University of Texas applicant asked U.S. Supreme Court justices to reconsider race as a factor in college admissions. 

Abigail Fisher, who is white, applied to the University of Texas, which denied her admission even though she met the University’s merit standards, including grades and test scores. The Supreme Court of the United States heard her case, Fisher v. University of Texas, in 2013. This case parallels those at other schools, such as University of Michigan, University of North Carolina and even Harvard.  

Cases such as 2013’s Fisher v. University of Texas are advocating the abolishment of affirmative action. The solution, however, lies in reform, not abolition. 

Race-based affirmative action is an anachronism and has only created a greater disparity among students. Race-orientated affirmative action does not solve any issues of racism in our country, nor does it aid the students who need our help — those from disadvantaged backgrounds. 

Students who are from disadvantaged backgrounds actually have an impediment that hinders their success, yet there are institutions that continue to focus on race, which takes away from the help they could give to socioeconomically underprivileged students. 

Race-based affirmative action also is counterproductive. We should hold all races to the same standard. Isn’t that real equality? 

Affirmative action is hardly a modern concept, with roots from the Reconstruction period after the Civil War. After the federal government abolished slavery, it wanted to establish equal opportunity for newly freed slaves. The practice re-emerged again in 1965 when President Johnson aimed to boost minority employment. 

During this period, the government operated under an “even the playing field” principle. This was imperative because of the clear and demonstrable effect of racism on the quality of minority education.

But, in 2015, this breed of affirmative action is not effective, and colleges should shift their admission policy toward the students who need that help and would most likely not otherwise succeed. Holding all races to the same standard is, in fact, beneficial to minorities. 

Californians initiated Proposition 209 in 1996 to outlaw the discriminatory use of anyone’s race or gender in university admissions and employment, with opposition predicting that minority enrollment in colleges would decline. These predictions were false, and the numbers of black and Hispanic students actually rose in the decade that followed. These students entered programs at schools of their academic abilities and achieved success. Bachelor’s degrees awarded to black students at California State University increased by 42 percent and bachelor’s degrees earned by Hispanic students increased a staggering 95 percent, according to the National Association of Scholars.

This data distinctly demonstrates that race-based affirmative action is a policy designed for the ‘60s. Today, it can actually hinder the success of minority students who are placed in incompatible programs.

Many cases like Fisher’s have appeared over the years and caused the emergence of groups like Students for Fair Admissions, which believes that, “racial classifications and preferences in college admissions are unfair, unnecessary and unconstitutional.”  

They believe in upholding every principle of the American civil rights movement and Constitution, and affirmative action harms many students because of their race, especially white and Asian-American students. 

They have challenged the affirmative action policies at Harvard and University of North Carolina, asserting their belief that diversity should be no excuse for racism. The vox populi of the left is that minorities cannot flourish on their own without affirmative action cradling them. Such an attitude is not just racist, but can be proved wrong by the Golden State itself. 

 Students from poverty-stricken or broken homes should be receiving this advantage, and basing admissions on class actually hits two birds with one stone. According to the New York Times, with the socioeconomics-based policy that gave preference to students from impoverished or disadvantaged backgrounds, seven out of 10 schools were able to maintain or increase the number of black and Hispanic students. 

This also diffuses the heat brought to the Supreme Court regarding affirmative action. The Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment, which is the part of the 14th Amendment that guarantees every citizen equal protection under the law, is arguably infringed upon when students receive preferential treatment because of race. When shifting to prioritizing students from disadvantaged backgrounds, there is no breach in law.

We live in a country that prides itself on equal opportunity, where hard work and merit are the ingredients to success and where we are supposed to be colorblind in this endeavor. Affirmative action based on race was critical 50 years ago, but now colleges should use it to help those students from impoverished backgrounds who otherwise may not thrive. 

We should aim to finally realize the principles our Constitution and civil rights movement are supposed to stand for that all people are created equally — and we must apply this in practice. 

Marlo Safi primarily writes about politics and public policy for The Pitt News.

Email Marlo at [email protected]