The Benefits of Affirmative Action


Liah Apatira and Alayna Odom

The following article is a personal expression of the author’s viewpoint and does not represent the thoughts and opinions of The Scroll staff or the faculty and administration of Cincinnati Country Day School. A reminder that while The Scroll is publicly accessible, its contents represent the work of young thinkers in a school setting. A forum will be open on Monday, February 5 during lunch to openly discuss the issues addressed in the following piece. This article is related to its counterpoint article “The Problem with Affirmative Action”, which can be found here. –The Scroll Staff and Mr. Tracey-Miller

By Liah Apatira ’18, Contributor and Alayna Odom ’18, Contributor

Recently, “The Problems with Affirmative Action” was published in The Scroll seemingly targeting African-Americans and Latinos and talking about how they were not performing as well as their white counterparts in schools. The “mismatch” article gives the impression that students of color were given admission to schools solely because of their race and that they do not truly deserve to be there. The idea that black students primarily benefit from this program that might cause mismatch is likewise inaccurate. In fact, there are many other people of color and women who have benefited. Suggesting that due to Affirmative Action, white people are discriminated against in the choosing process of schools and jobs is unfair considering that they already have the benefit of being white in America. It is also unfair to assume that they have the authority of arguing that the playing field is equal.

Before defending Affirmative Action, first the term needs to be defined. Affirmative Action is a “set of procedures designed to eliminate unlawful discrimination between applicants, remedy the results of such prior discrimination, and prevent such discrimination in the future.” In other words, it is designed to help promote and protect groups historically denied education and job opportunities (such as women and minorities) as well as an effort to help make up for past discrimination (although discrimination is still alive and well).

Unfortunately, there have been cases in which white students are denied admission from schools and claim that they are a victim of “reverse discrimination” due to Affirmative Action. While Affirmative Action has benefitted minorities, in the first two decades of Affirmative Action, white women saw more development in their careers than any other racial and gender group. Columbia University law professor Kimberlé Crenshaw explained in her 2006 essay “Framing Affirmative Action” why looking at black people as the face for Affirmative Action is flawed. She wrote “the primary beneficiaries of Affirmative Action have been Euro-American women.”

First, Affirmative Action has always been meant to level the playing field in a way that civil rights laws could not. President Johnson spoke about his executive order at a commencement ceremony for Howard University, a historical black college, in 1965. “It is not enough just to open the gates of opportunity. All our citizens must have the ability to walk through those gates,” he said. “This is the next and the more profound state of the battle for civil rights. We seek not just freedom, but opportunity. We seek not just legal equity, but human ability, not just equality as a right and a theory, but equality as a fact and equality as a result.” Some white students think that black students are not worthy of being in certain big-name schools, such as Harvard, Yale, or Princeton. They believe that they will not succeed or are “mismatched”, the idea that minorities will do worse in more selective schools and therefore will not be successful throughout their lives.  However, research done by former Harvard presidents, William Bowen and Derek Bok, found that Affirmative Action programs that helped admit students to highly selective universities are as successful, if not more successful, than their white counterparts. Those minorities are then able to open doors for generations after them.

While some may argue that universities should not continue to uphold Affirmative Action when it may not help, they are disregarding other factors that could come into play. There are factors beyond inability that impact the academic performance of minority students. For instance, imagine being a student from a low-income community attending a school lacking a multitude of resources. There are no AP classes to boost your GPA. You cannot afford a fancy tutor to boost your test scores. Beyond juggling your school work, you also are dealing with a family situation that well-off students could not even begin to understand. Still, you display that you have endurance to make it through anything. After overcoming those obstacles, you are admitted into a prestigious university. However, because you are a minority, your ability is constantly being questioned by your peers. This situation, unfortunately, is real; Sarah R. Sikind, a Harvard University student, wrote an article titled “affirmative dissatisfaction”. Some minorities experience “imposter syndrome”, a concept describing individuals who are marked by an inability to internalize their accomplishments and persistent in fear of being exposed as a “fraud”. So not only do students sometimes feel out of place, they are also being directly told that they are out of place, which makes it harder for them to succeed. The solution is not to do away with Affirmative Action, but rather to change the perceptions and misunderstanding of those it may not directly benefit.

With 8 states banning Affirmative Action, we can see the negative effects of college admissions without Affirmative Action. According to the New York Times, in every state Hispanic and black enrollment has significantly decreased since the ban of Affirmative Action. Diversity has its benefits in colleges by enhancing social development, opens multiple perspectives, and prepares students for future career success. The article published about the problems with Affirmative Action has a narrow viewpoint that grades ae somehow the only measure of success. According to Darling-Hammond and Dintersmith, “The debate’s underlying assumption is that statistical measures — GPAs, SATs, ACTs, and AP test scores — are the most objective, and hence useful, gauge of an applicant’s merit.  … Myriad studies conclude that standardized test scores are a poor predictor of success in college and in life. More than 80 percent of the variance in college success is attributable to factors other than test scores. Over and over across our country, we find leaders of business, nonprofits, or policy with checkered academic transcripts.”  Although many minorities are very successful academically, academic success is not the only lens through which the program should be judged.

Researchers such as Angela Duckworth have emphasized the overwhelming importance of character traits such as perseverance, grit, and resourcefulness to success. At some level, we all realize that it is the kid who never gives up and always finds a way to move forward, not the kid who can spell difficult words and can recite the quadratic equation, who will make important contributions to his or her employer, community, and society.

Moreover, Affirmative Action policies help increase diversity, which has benefits in the work place. According to both McKinsey & Company and Forbes, in the United States, there is a linear relationship between racial and ethnic diversity and better financial performance. Companies in the top quartile for racial and ethnic diversity are 35% more likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry medians and companies in the top quartile for gender diversity are 15% more likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry medians. Clearly, diversity and representation matter.  Regarding grades as a predictor of ability, Google’s Senior VP of HR has been quoted as saying that test scores are “worthless” in determining workplace success.

There is no question that a college education is a necessity to be successful in many career paths. Diversity admissions to colleges benefit all students by enhancing social development, provides the opportunity for all to experience multiple perspectives, and prepares students for future career success.  Perhaps there is no numeric value in the classroom to learning and achieving with those of us who come from a different place in the context of history.  Even if it can’t be quantified by an award or a letter grade, you may just find that we have much to offer and conclude that Affirmative Action is as beneficial for the majority as it is for the minority. While we are not saying that Affirmative Action is a miracle cure for America’s history of racial inequity, it is a good start. In the words of the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., “We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.”