More than affirmative action: it’s time to stop minimizing minority students’ success
January 21, 2017
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For many students, being accepted into college is a validation of hard work and dedication throughout high school. But my sisters had a different experience after they were accepted to Harvard; each heard others claim that she had “only gotten in because she’s Latina.” Around the country, other minority students—who benefit from often-controversial affirmative action policies—report hearing similar things.
One black Stanford student wrote in the Stanford Review that he felt that his acceptance came with an “asterisk”: it wasn’t just attributed to his intelligence and achievements, but also to his race.
Even as a junior, friends and classmates comment on the “advantage” that I will soon have in the college process. This comment perpetuates the idea that as a minority students don’t earn their acceptances to the same degree as other students.
This furthers negative perceptions of minorities, the opposite of the intended effect of affirmative action. Affirmative action, sometimes termed “positive discrimination,” refers to admission policies favoring racial and ethnic minorities that suffer historical discrimination.
But reducing someone’s acceptance to their race or acting as if this is the only relevant factor in the admissions process minimizes other successes. Students with top grades, scores and impressive extracurriculars who just happen to be minorities are seen as nothing more than affirmative action admits, rather than deserving, talented individuals.
Not only does this mindset harm minority students, it’s frequently untrue. Affirmative action is often used in the selection of applicants with equal or comparable qualifications, according to research published in the Journal of Social Issues. This implies that if there are two qualified candidates and one is part of an underrepresented minority, the minority candidate would be selected over the non-minority candidate. In reality, selecting an unqualified candidate over a qualified candidate is against federal law.
Some claim that any advantage is unfair, but affirmative action is needed to rectify the historical underrepresentation of minority groups on college campuses—and it works. Since affirmative action became common in the late 1980s, college enrollment by students of color has increased by 57.2 percent, reports The Leadership Conference Education Fund.
These policies remain essential to ensuring diversity on college campuses. Carnegie Mellon—judged the “most diverse top college” by a 2015 Forbes article—is just three percent black, a disproportionate number considering that up to 15 percent of the nation’s population identifies as black. The statistics for Latino students are similar. Underrepresentation often makes it difficult for black and Latino students to find community at their college, a key part of the college experience.
Even if affirmative action policies feel unfair, suggesting that college acceptance of minority students is less legitimate is the wrong response to have.
The fact is, no one is admitted to college just because of race, ethnicity, or any other single factor. My sisters are Latina, and proud of it, but that’s not all they are. One won national writing awards and developed an expertise in acting, directing and researching Shakspeare; the other was one of the top female debaters in the nation and did extensive genetics research.
I witnessed their hard work and dedication, and I couldn’t have been prouder when it paid off. No student deserves to have their accomplishments minimized with an asterisk, and all should be able to feel proud of their acceptance without facing skepticism.