Affirmative action is necessary to stop discrimination in admissions, employment
In 1961, President John F. Kennedy signed Executive Order 10925 into law, which would require that all government contractors take “affirmative action” to ensure equal opportunity for all in regards to education and the workplace, regardless of race, creed, color or national origin.
Since then, affirmative action policies have been implemented in universities and places of work all around the country. In the half a century since the order went into effect, questions of whether affirmative action policies are doing more harm than good or if they are still necessary to help counter decades-old discrimination have arisen in national conversation.
While argued by dissenters to be another form of discrimination, affirmative action is actually a means of reparations for minorities who have been subject to a history of unjust treatment. For African-Americans, this history includes hundreds of years of slavery and Jim Crow laws, while for Hispanic Americans, it encompasses decades of brutal xenophobia and under-representation.
With the lasting effects of this treatment in mind, affirmative action encourages public and private employers, college admissions committees and other selection-based program to consider race as another criterion when evaluating applicants.
This not only actively pursues a more diverse environment, but also acts as a form of reparation by not holding these people responsible for the failure of a country to recognize their equality.
Discrimination such as that perpetrated against African-Americans and Hispanic Americans in the past is not over, despite the abolition of certain racist practices. To argue that the discriminatory treatment of minority groups is the relic of a bygone era fails to take into account the multi-generational implications of such conduct.
Not only has this prior treatment perpetuated a grotesquely negative stigma around minorities and their work ethic, but has also manifested itself in the decreased socioeconomic status, health, and quality of education of minorities for generations.
The events that transpired in Levittown, New York following World War II provide a nationally representative scenario of the cross-generational impact of racial discrimination.
Returned from the war and in search of housing, soldiers flocked to Levittown due to its exceptional affordability. However, this housing was not made available to all potential homebuyers. The Federal Housing and Veterans administrations not only encouraged, but also routinely required, the denial of sales to African-Americans.
Over time, these homes that African-Americans were barred from purchasing gradually appreciated in wealth. This incremental increase allowed white individuals to accumulate wealth over time, while African-Americans were left behind.
Racial discrimination like this has allowed for minority groups in the United States to be disproportionately affected by poverty. Minorities cannot be blamed for their failure to rise above the position that the United States put them in through a history of discriminatory treatment and laws.
Policy should not be colorblind
Individuals in favor of a colorblind admissions process argue that affirmative action acts as a form of “reverse discrimination” by selectively favoring minorities over similarly qualified applicants of other races. The problem with this argument is that it begins with the premise that all applicants were equal to begin with and that there is an advantage being conferred to minorities.
Affirmative action programs do not provide minorities with an unfair advantage, but rather undo a longstanding disadvantage that continues to plague them to this day. Affirmative action policies provide for truly equal opportunity where it would otherwise not exist.
In fact, a study done by the National Urban Institute found that white men with similar qualifications, comparable enthusiasm and equal “articulateness” as minority applicants still received 45% more job offers than their African-American co-testers and a staggering 52% more job offers than their Latino counterparts.
This study clearly shows that scrapping affirmative action policies in favor of a colorblind, competitive process would allow for unfair, discriminatory practices in which workplaces and universities would be significantly more racially homogenous and exclusive of non-white races.
Affirmative action policies do not grant preference based on race, allow for racial quotas or mandate minimum minority requirements. A common misconception about these policies is that they allow less eligible minorities to fill spots at a university or a position in a workplace, despite having lower qualifications.
The sentiment that an individual is accepted into a school or offered a position solely due to their race is false. Minority individuals applying to a university or for a job are subject to identical screening procedures as every other applicant, eliminating the opportunity for preferential racial treatment.
In regards to academia, minority students who have lower test scores or GPAs in comparison with their white counterparts are perceived as less qualified applicants. This view goes against the holistically-based decision making schools exercise in the admissions process.
Many schools value rich life experiences and backgrounds that can contribute to the success of their students, so to generalize all minorities as inadequate applicants because their GPA was lower than another applicant’s is naive and fails to recognize different barriers minority students may have faced throughout their personal lives and academic careers.
These barriers, including lack of access to resources, quality teachers in a good school system, and a motivated environment play a large role in the eventual success an individual will have. Grossly underfunded schools with a scarcity of resources and effective teachers are likely to breed students who fall victim to the effects of low standards and even lower motivation.
While affirmative action is not a perfect solution to abolishing discrimination in university admissions and employment opportunities, it is currently the only measure in place to minimize its occurrence. Government-encouraged affirmative action signifies a federally responsible and efficacious attempt to solve a problem that was brought about by that same government.
Opinion columnist Ryan Nowrouzi is a biomedical sciences junior and can be reached at [email protected]