By: Summer Duffy
Cambridge High School
College. That one word, those seven letters, hold endless possibilities, countless experiences and limitless pathways. So it’s no wonder that it is incredibly stressful and time consuming to get accepted to the college of your dreams. You have to worry about grades, SAT scores, rigor, extracurricular activities and your essays. But in the past 40 years, something else has played a significant role in the college admission process; affirmative action. Now we have two words. The question we must ask is—do they hold limitless possibilities? Or do they limit possibilities? Dr. King described the United States as a place where we are all connected in some way. Through affirmative action, his words are true to this day.
Affirmative action is defined as “A policy designed to give special attention to or compensatory treatment for members of some previously disadvantaged group (Government in America).” It is no question that minority groups have struggled in the past. And it is no question that the white majority was the perpetrator of that treatment. But at what point do we stop compensating for wrongs that have been committed in the past and move on? By allowing minority groups into schools that did not allow them in the past, college boards are looking to rectify the offenses that occurred many years ago. M.J. Sandel stated that “Those who benefit are not necessarily those who have suffered and those who pay the compensation are seldom those responsible for the wrongs being rectified.” Multiple court cases have been brought before the Supreme Court to discuss the constitutionality of affirmative action. Many white Americans have gone before the court outraged that they were not granted admission while less qualified minority students were. In the case Regents of the University of California v Bakke, the court ruled that schools could not admit students solely based on their race. The Supreme Court also ruled that quotas for specific minority groups were unconstitutional. However, the court did not establish that using race as one of the many criteria in the admission process unlawful. Yet, this can still be considered unfair. No one controls whether they are born into a majority or minority family. Yet being born into a middle/ upper class white family can be a disadvantage when it comes to applying to college. Or it can go the other way. A wealthy black applicant can be admitted over a lower class white applicant who has better qualifications. Though the argument can be made that race is a good indicator of social status, in the 21st century, white does not mean rich and black does not mean poor. Affirmative action should cater to the status of class, not race. This change would allow for diversity in ways that would not limit majority or minority groups.
Though affirmative action can be a negative movement, it can also be extraordinarily beneficial depending on how a school defines its mission. Back in 2003, Grutter v. Bollinger was a case involving a white student being denied admission to University of Michigan Law School. The court decided that this was in fact constitutional because the mission of the school was to support racial diversity. The court favored the law school but established that it needed to keep a “critical mass” of minority students so the diversity would be prevalent. Missions such as this one have been benefitting minority students for decades. This logic does have a downside. If a school decided its mission was to only allow students whose parents could make sizeable donations to the school, lower and even middle class applicants would be denied access solely based on the amount of money their students could give. Americans pride themselves on living in the “land of opportunity.” But when that opportunity is given to someone else, the majority doesn’t understand. Take for example a job opening for which ten men are interviewed. Nine of these men are white and one is African American. If the black man gets the job and it is based solely on his race, how many men suffered from affirmative action? The first number that comes to mind is nine. But in reality only one man suffered. Only one man did not receive the job due to affirmative action. Most of the applicants who bring schools before the Supreme Court believe that they deserve a spot because a minority student with fewer qualifications received theirs. But if the minority student had not been chosen, would that student be next in line? Or would there be a mile long list of other students that were not accepted? Dr. King claimed that we are all “tied in a single garment of destiny” and nothing could be truer when it comes to affirmative action. When one majority student is accepted, opportunity is lost for the minority. And when a white student is declined even when they meet the criteria, the entire white population is in uproar over the idea of minority favoritism. Americans are proud to say they are no longer segregated and that they live in a country full of equality and opportunity. But when things don’t line up perfectly for everyone, the white population can revert to the ways of the past and claim that they have a right, they deserve something that others do not.
Dr. King’s words still ring true throughout the country. The fate of all students applying to colleges and universities are tied together based on who is accepted and who is not. Affirmative action affects majority and minority groups from sea to shining sea and the connection of all of these groups defines the American way of life. If our country is to keep true to its reputation of pure equality, affirmative action needs to be a concept that is either widely accepted, or removed completely. As Dr. King said “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Now Americans must decide where they stand with affirmative action.
Sandel, Michael J. Justice: What’s the Right Thing to Do? New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2009. Print
Edwards, George C, Martin P. Wattenberg, Robert L Lineberry, John J. Harrigan, David C. Nice, Dennis L. Dresang, and James J. Gosling. Government in America: People, Politics & Policy at National, State & Local Levels. Boston: Pearson Custom/Pearson Longman, 2009. Print
The opinions, comments, and sentiments expressed by the participants are not necessarily those of Holland & Knight LLP or the Holland & Knight Charitable Foundation, Inc.