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How Affirmative Action in College Admissions Affects Diversity
"In the little world in which children have their existence, whosoever brings them up, there is nothing so finely perceived and so finely felt as injustice."
-Charles Dickens, Great Expectations
As I heard my name called, I turned around, my long ponytail whacking me in the face. Gym class was half over, and so far all I had done was stand around, observing everyone around me play matball or banzi. It turned out I was being called because that it was time for me to pick classes to create my schedule for junior year. I sat down next to my guidance counselor and listened carefully as she explained the number of class credits I would need for the following year. Although I had already thought about what I would be taking, which included many Honors and Advanced Placement classes, there was an issue. As my guidance counselor began circling the classes I had chosen, she explained to me that it was highly unlikely that I would be able to take all the classes I listed. I was extremely disappointed, having counted on the schedule to just figure itself out.
Most of my disappointment stemmed from realizing I wouldn’t be able to fulfil my ambition to take a of challenging courses and do well in all of them. As unrealistic as it may seems, I thought a packed schedule was the only way to show colleges how hardworking and motivated I was. Ever since Middle School, my mom has always told me that because I was asian, I was going to have to take all the Advanced Placement courses available and get phenomenal grades in every class in order to fulfill the academic portion of college applications. My mom now spends her time conversing with asian parents whose children went to Harvard (conversations which she shares at the dinner table for motivation) and constantly reminds me to work harder at school. All this pressure has transferred to me. Now, I spend my days worrying about whether or not I will get into my dream school. I also wonder, what if I meet many of the qualifications but my race affects the final decision?
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A few days following Martin Luther King Jr.’s death in 1968, a group of students in the Black Student Union at Stanford University appealed to the university administration with a series of requests. Hoping to see the school admit more minorities, the Black Student Union wanted to partake in the process of college admissions for students of marginalized groups. In previous years, Stanford University and other institutions had suffered from a lack of diversity in the student body. After realizing that the number of minority students was indeed not increasing, colleges began to focus less on academic results, such as standardized tests and grades, hoping that more minorities would be admitted through a new process. However, colleges found it difficult to admit some students of minority groups who were not as eligible as other candidates. According to John H. Bunzel’s article, “Race and college admissions,” during the late 1900s, “fewer than 4,200 black high-school graduates had grade-point averages of 3.75 or better.” As a result, many colleges, especially top universities, struggled with balancing their admissions criteria with the diversity of freshman class. They questioned whether it was acceptable to have different qualifications for each distinct race or ethnic group.
Thomas Espenshade, Senior Scholar and Professor of Sociology at the Office of Population Research at Princeton University, and Alexandria Walton Radford, expert of counseling for students’ transition to college, studied the records of college admissions to find evidence of differing racial expectations. Based on their results, out of the 1600 total points on the SAT, Asian-American applicants need to score 140 points higher than white students and 310 points higher than black students to be considered as equal candidates for a private university. This means that an asian student scoring 1500 points on the SAT will have the same (academic) chance of acceptance as a white student scoring a 1360 or a black student scoring a 1190. Thus, the black group benefits from what has become known as affirmative action the most, followed by the white group. The distinct qualifications for each racial group are examples of what the US. Commission on Civil Rights in 1977 describes as affirmative action: “any measure, beyond simple termination of discriminatory practice, adopted to correct and compensate for past or present discrimination or to prevent discrimination from recurring in the future.” Although blacks and African Americans are discriminated against, they are not the only group that has experienced racial injustice in the past. In the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, Chinese citizens were banned from entering United States borders. In World War II, hundreds of thousands of Japanese-Americans were sent to internment camps. Although Asian-Americans make up a minority group that has been discriminated against in the past, it seems as if we are not benefitting from affirmative action; instead, we are at a disadvantage when it comes to college admissions.
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Since affirmative action directly affects college students, it is important to acknowledge students’ opinions on college admission policies. Linda J. Sax, Professor of Higher Education at the Graduate School of Education and Information Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles, and Marisol Arredondo, Director of Institutional Research at Chapman University in Orange, California, conducted a study in which the students’ attitudes towards affirmative action were measured throughout on a number of college campuses. In the sample, there were over 277,850 college freshmen from 709 colleges and universities all over the world from four racial/ethnic groups: Caucasians, African-Americans, Asian-Americans, and Mexican-Americans. The study intended to discover students’ opinions toward racial policies while identifying which factors contributed to the students’ decisions.
The 1996 Freshman Survey, posed questions covering a variety of topics, including family income, race/ethnicity, extra curricular activities, morals and beliefs, etc. The results showed that male students who describe themselves as “politically conservative” tend to be more against affirmative action than female students who identify as liberal or “in the middle” politically. Another factor that comes into play is students’ socialization and communication with others. According to the study, those who are not usually around other races have an increased chance of opposing affirmative action in college admissions. Students with higher SAT scores are also more likely to oppose affirmative action, along with those who are in highly educated, high income families. White and Asian-American students who do well in school tend to be against affirmative action while African-Americans with similar grades are more likely to support it. Espenshade and Radford reason that Asian-Americans benefit the least from affirmative action since they have to score somewhat higher than whites but significantly higher than blacks. Hence, it is not surprising that racial groups who are expected to have higher SAT scores and GPAs show opposition to affirmative action.
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Ever since President Kennedy put a stamp on the term “affirmative action,” there have been many lawsuits and cases involving students accusing colleges of rejecting their applications for racial reasons. In the most recent case, Fisher v. University of Texas, Abigail Fisher was rejected by the University of Texas and filed a lawsuit against the school, arguing that she was not admitted because of her race. The Court ruled 4-3, allowing the University of Texas the continuation of affirmative action.
Touré, a writer, music journalist, cultural critic, and author of the Time Magazine article“Why We Still Need Affirmative Action,” agrees with the decision of keeping affirmative action policies because he thinks that diversity is a crucial part of every experience. Touré’s father grew up in the 1970s during times of segregation, so he argues that he is very lucky to have received “greater educational and professional opportunities” because “affirmative action multiplied [his] chances of success.” He emphasizes the significance of diversity in everyday life, including the workplace, school, and on the street. Touré argues that “blacks and Hispanics are losing the lifelong battle against the constantly accumulating benefits of white privilege.” This expresses his desperation in attempts of increasing diversity by continuing on the track of affirmative action. However, Touré fails to recognize that there are ways of keeping a school’s diversity up while getting rid of affirmative action.
Some of the methods of maintaining a diversified school have been accomplished by public institutions of California, in which affirmative action was banned in 1996. Due to Proposition 209, all public schools in California must refrain from using race, sex, or ethnicity to discriminate students, especially in admissions. Initially, public colleges such as the University of California, Los Angeles and the University of California, Berkeley suffered from the amendment; the number of African American enrollees at UCLA dropped by 45.5% the first year the ban took effect, while the number African American students decreased by 41.4% at UC Berkeley. Nonetheless, UCLA has found methods to keeping student diversity to its previous rates and, though costly, these new techniques have made significant changes. For instance, UCLA started giving “five-star” campus tours targeting high school minority students, such as African Americans. During these informative tours, hired enrollment managers coach students on the means of becoming successful throughout high school. Youlonda Copeland-Morgan, the associate vice-chancellor for the enrollment outreach program, calls this outreach strategy “intrusive recruiting,” where the college makes itself well-known and is frequently “in your face.” Recruiters are responsible for holding community events and staying in touch with students by sending frequent emails, cards, and invitations. Another way public schools in California have managed the diversity issue is by guaranteeing college acceptance to the top nine percent of high school graduating classes in the area. Through this campus tour and coaching process, UCLA has been able to raise diversity rates to those of pre-Proposition 209 times while staying true to the banned affirmative action policy.
Despite the racial diversity improvements at public institutes in California, it is worth noting that the “intrusive recruitment” process is not very cost-efficient. UCLA had to stretch its “school recruitment budget” from $1 million to $1.7 million in years 2012 to 2013 to accommodate outreach programs and managers such as Copeland-Morgan. The public Universities of California have spent more than half a billion dollars over the past twenty years, attempting to fix the diversity gap.
Although Touré and Copeland-Morgan disagree about whether the diversity shortage caused by affirmative action can be solved, they both seem to agree that there are unequal opportunities for certain racial and ethnic groups, especially minorities. From Touré, we know that diversity should be a careful consideration throughout the admissions process. Copeland-Morgan shows us that it is possible to solve concerning issues, such as lack of diversity, even at a school where affirmative action is prohibited. Despite Touré’s opinion being true and important, Copeland-Morgan’s judgement is more fully developed because she presents an achievable solution that continues to make progress. Since affirmative action is a topic college students feel strongly about, as shown by the 1996 Freshman Survey, even if affirmative action were banned, UC’s strategies being put in place would help maintain the diversity issue.
Knowing that I have to score 140 points higher than a white person to be viewed as an equal candidate for college is not exactly comforting. Nonetheless, there are ways in which a student can have characteristics, called hooks, that could increase his/her chances at getting into schools. Some hooks include being a first generation college student, having a physical disability or impairment, or being a star athlete ranked at a state or national level. Many institutions value affirmative action because the policy presents equal opportunities to underrepresented minorities who face obstacles in the academic world. I only hope that these opportunities can also be successfully presented to minorities that may not be underrepresented.