Affirmative Action: Diversity in Colleges and Universities


By Jordann Sadler ‘18, Perspectives Editor

Affirmative action was a direct outcome of the 1960’s Civil Rights Movement. Although in 1954, the Brown v. Board of Education outlawed segregation in schools, only a very small percentage of students were African-American. Universities still had biases against those of colors. Affirmative Actions prevented those biases against students of color from getting in the way of their success. Affirmative Action forced universities to give an equal chance to underrepresented groups. When schools have diversity, we are allowing for students to have empathy for each other and be better prepared for the diverse world that we have. When Proposition 209 was passed in California, diversity plummeted. According to the AAJC (Asian Americans Advancing Justice), “Colleges and universities that reach the highest levels of diversity have fewer incidents of racial hostility.” Not only that, but 64% of AAPIs (Asian American and Pacific Islanders) supported Affirmative Action. In 2007, 70% of white high school graduates enrolled in college compared to 56% African-American and 61% Hispanic. In 2011, 69% of white high school graduates immediately enrolled in college, followed by 65% of African-American high school graduates and 63% of Hispanic graduates. Although I do speak mainly about race, many other groups benefit from Affirmative Action: people with disabilities, veterans, and women. But of course, I can only truly speak about the African-American experience since I myself am a black student going through the college process.

African-Americans and minorities must work 5 times harder to get a job, to get respect, and to be treated equally. “Underprepared”? “Underqualified”? More like underrepresented and misunderstood. When speaking about Affirmative Action, many do not consider the background that most underprivileged minority students come from and ignore the struggle that minorities go through in White America. Even when minorities are accepted into college, they still face discrimination from schools that, despite having Affirmative Action, are still majority white! Affirmative action is just trying to prevent white colleges from becoming even more…well…white. It is diluting the colorless profile. Whether it is Women, Native Americans, LGBTQ+ communities, Asian Americans, Hispanics, etc., they’ve all faced a historical level of oppression from not being able to show one’s ankle to drinking from Black-only water fountains. To be blunt, colleges and universities are trying to improve inclusiveness on groups other than straight, white males.

As a black woman wanting to go into the technology field which is primarily white and male, I am going to be outnumbered in a place that neither understands me, my culture, and my background. When your skin is darker than your professor’s, you become the laughing stock, and the one zit on a “flawless” face that is targeted and latched onto—that’s enough to make someone drop out of fields such as medicine, tech, and law. Those fields (mostly STEM fields) already have a blatant lack of color. Reversing the roles, it is just the same. Throw a white student into a college that has a minority of white students and that student will most likely feel out of place, misunderstood, and will need nurturing in a culture that is different from theirs. Many criticize HBCUs (Historically Black Colleges and Universities) as an example of reversing the role, but the difference between an HBCU and a “regular” university is that HBCUs understand the backgrounds that students come from—whether its underprivileged, underrepresented, misunderstood or otherwise. HBCUs act as a key example that all colleges should take: compassion and empathy for people of all backgrounds. Until the rest of the universities accept us and add more diversity, top-tier HBCUs will be African-American students’ refuge. Imagine if we had more students of color in top-tier schools, more minorities, more diversity from people of all places in which we understand and connect with, we can become more innovative, more advanced than ever. Taking away Affirmative Action would mean taking away the opportunity for people to learn and empathize with each other. It is giving minorities an equal chance since there is already a disconnection between minorities and white students in elementary, middle and high schools. Ignoring Affirmative Action would be just another mental chain, another example of institutionalized discrimination, another example of when slavery is no longer physical but mental as if to say, “you can go to college as long as you go where we say.”

Consequences from Jim Crow and pre-Jim Crow eras trickle down to today. For example, legacy gives students a slight advantage when applying to universities. Legacy, in simple terms, means that one has family members who has gone to a particular university. So, if one’s mother, father, grandfather, great-grand father, grandmother, etc. went to a university, a student who applies there with this legacy history will have a small advantage over a student who does not. The student who had generations at a certain college is more likely to “keep it in the family,” and go to the college that their family has gone to. Although Legacy does put a large amount of pressure on students, it also has an indirect cut-off for minority students who are more likely to be first-generational students than Caucasian students and less likely to have legacy at top-tier and Ivy League schools. A student’s white grandfather was more likely to go to college in the 60s and 70s than a student’s black grandfather. This is passed down to the parents who have two choices to make: go to college knowing that they will face discrimination or work to make immediate money and provide for one’s family (where they will also face discrimination). Harvard University, one of the oldest schools in America and one of the most famous, was also cleaned, swept, served, and taken care of by slaves. The same halls that the 50.9% white students walk on, are also the ones that Bilhah, Venus, Titus, and Juba were on their knees scrubbing. This history is the same for many of the older, prestigious universities. Since blacks still walk on the lands which our ancestors were enslaved, we are haunted everyday by schools that at one time did not allow minority students. Alexander Twilight was the first African-American to receive a bachelor’s degree from Middlebury College, located in Middlebury, Vermont, in 1823. Twilight was also mixed, having both African and English descent. Twilight’s visible, fair-skin may have aided him in his studies and interactions. Continuing the struggle of legacy, African-American families are less-likely to have accumulated generational wealth since slavery still affects the black community today. I know that most are tired of the “still affected by slavery” talk, but the scars are very much prevalent. 200 years is not long ago: three to four generations at minimum. To accumulate generational wealth, black families must also work twice as hard (see a trend?).  For more reasons than just stated, slavery does still affect the black community—not as direct as the abolishment in 1865 into segregation in the early 1900s, but enough to keep us a step back.

Affirmative Action is needed, but where colleges fails is how integration is achieved outside of accepting minorities into the school. This is not “mismatch” but instead a lack of outreach. It is not enough to just throw a student into a world in which they are unfamiliar with. Seminars for first-generational students, dorms for minority students, programs for those who feel that they do not belong, more minority teacher-minority student interactions, residential assistants with extensive diversity training, introductory classes in pre-professional fields specifically for underprivileged students, an all-school understanding and conversation of diversity—the proposals go on-and-on. Affirmative Action should not only be race-conscious but background-conscious. As students, we may get tired of endless Common App questions, application portals, short-answer questions, but those are needed to assess if students are motivated in situations that would otherwise be detrimental or if students are just using their privilege to get by. I use the word “privilege” loosely: privilege to afford to take the SAT (which is $60 with an essay), to pay to send scores to colleges, to pay the application fee some universities require, for parents and students to know what steps to take in the college process, or to have a counselor who is able to lead students in the right direction. All these things (and more) that most take for granted are big decisions for a family to take. Many talented and gifted students often miss their chance because of things like these.

Affirmative Action is more than just accepting students into college. Many see it as reparations for the past, but racism and prejudice still exist in our country. Affirmative Action is reparation for NOW. This argument is further than Affirmative Action. From elementary to graduate, there needs to be a massive education reform. Universities that at least attempt to integrate students into their community while also embracing that student’s culture are more attractive, better fit to truly prepare students with varied social interactions and prepare students for the world rather than another gold star on a résumé.