Affirmative action in college admissions is no stranger to the many policies that have been heavily debated over the years. With affirmative action, schools are required to consider a student’s race or gender to ensure equal opportunity is available to those who are underrepresented and unprivileged. However, the polarizing views it receives publicly have caused affirmative action to not be implemented, but altered and even banned at higher education institutions. The racial climate of this country, both historically and currently, prove why affirmative action policies remain necessary in this country.
The birth of affirmative action stemmed from the famous U.S. Supreme Court case in May of 1954, Brown vs. the Board of Education, which called for the desegregation of public school systems. Following that case came Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which ordered the number of Black students entering post-secondary schools to match the number of white students entering the schools to avoid losing federal financial assistance. Both cases came from the result of institutions not adhering to equal opportunity rights.
Institutional racism, in the form of segregation at least, no longer exists. However, the repercussions of those actions do still exist and, moreover, there are subtle forms of institutional racism that occur in an immeasurable and unconscious way. Years of slavery combined with years of Black people earning educations from poorly funded schools have set us back both economically and academically. To level out the playing field, Blacks would have to be given the opportunity to show up in spaces that historically haven’t welcomed us. Affirmative action in higher education is the first step in amending some of those past discriminations. It amends by acknowledging the discrepancy between the advancement of Blacks in this country and the archaic “pulling oneself up by one’s bootstraps” rhetoric. Social and economic advancement can only be attained through necessary tools like education. As seen with many well-paying jobs, the requirements include, but are not limited to, post-secondary school education. And that’s just to make a livable wage in our current economy.
As controversial as it might be, affirmative action based on race isn’t at the heart of the debate, but wealth and legacy are. These privileges give preferential admission to students whose parents are alumni or come from generational wealth, which too often excludes Blacks and Latinos. According to the Economics of Education Review in 2011, students of alumni had a 45 percent greater chance of admissions to 30 top colleges in the country. So, while the participants in the latest college cheating scandal involving Hollywood actresses Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin and wealthy CEOs are shocking, their actions are not. It proves that underprivileged students have to also compete with students like Loughlin’s daughter Olivia Jade, who openly expressed she didn’t care about school and only wanted to go to college to party.
In speaking with Robert Mason, founder of the Common Black College Application, about the importance of affirmative action, he stated: “It’s imperative that we have it in place, because there are far too many school systems that are not receiving the resources necessary to provide the kind of education comparable to what wealthy students are receiving. As a very practical example of how committed we are to this, we’re launching a 9th and 10th grade practice Common Black College Application. Far too often I go into a high school senior classroom and I ask, ‘How many of you have completed a college app?’ and very few hands are raised. Too few of our students don’t understand the importance of education, and a lot of that has to do with socioeconomic status and a lot of that has occurred post-segregation.”
With resources such as the Common Black College Application, students are afforded the opportunity to have their applications sent to 52 different HBCUs at the same time for $35. This opportunity was seized by a teen who was accepted to 39 universities and awarded $1.6 million in scholarships.
Fifty-eight years after it was implemented, America today still proves why affirmative action is needed. The United States is still dealing with issues such as the school-to-prison pipeline, racial profiling, and discrimination, just to name a few. We are being told that merit, class, and every other excuse should be in place of race-based affirmative action, which have all been proven to still benefit white people more than people of color. Not too long ago, a young Black girl was accused of cheating on her SATs. Is merit really measurable? One way we can protect our access to spaces of higher education, that this country once thought we didn’t deserve, is by having the racial equality policy in place. Affirmative action should no longer be a topic of debate if we are truly focusing on equal opportunity.
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