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OPINION | The problematic effects of affirmative action

Race-conscious enrollment in the college admissions race

Two Blue & Gold writers debate affirmative action, which allows universities to consider race as a factor in admissions. Currently, the limited use of affirmative action is legal, but racial quotas are deemed unconstitutional by the supreme court. Staff writer Barron Tsai (’19) argues against its implementation, while staff writer Julian Lee (’18) argues for it in this article.
I would not want to be labelled a racist or a bigot, so let me make this clear at the outset: I am not against affirmative action. I am cognizant of the fact that many minorities face potential discrimination from the rich and powerful within American society. They deserve all the help that they can get. But even as I embrace the good intentions and principles behind such a system, I cannot help but wonder about affirmative action’s place in the “master plan” to create a unified yet diversified American society.
Affirmative action seems like a purely beneficial endeavor on the surface. After all, American society today, for all its positive improvements, still suffers from racism, discrimination, or bigotry. It is therefore necessary—good, even—to turn that around with the positive discrimination that defines affirmative action. Or so the argument goes. But the truth is, affirmative action has many problematic effects. As kids in the classroom, some of us may have felt resentment towards a so-called teacher’s pet. Blow that up on a macro scale, and you have affirmative action. The beneficiaries of affirmative action tend to engender resentment from non-minorities who feel as these minorities are given special treatment in college admissions.
Whether or not minority candidates actually deserve the coveted university spots they get does not matter to the resentful non-minority students who lose out in the admissions race—it is the perception that counts. And this, and the widely-held perception that minorities get preferential treatment serves only to heighten racial tensions in an already tension-filled society.

As kids in the classroom, some of us may have felt resentment towards a so-called teacher’s pet.

In addition to creating the notion that overqualified minority candidates only succeed because they are objects of the government’s charity, affirmative action also creates situations where underqualified candidates are put into a situation that unfortunately, proves to be too challenging for them. At some institutions of higher learning, unqualified minority students may end up gaining admission not on the basis of merit but on the basis of their skin color. Instead of setting them up for success, affirmative action has set these students up to fail.
Perhaps, it would be judicious to suggest that affirmative action should not be based on skin color at all. It should instead be based on socioeconomic status. A rich black kid or a rich Latino kid already has plenty of opportunities and chances in life to succeed. They do not need the benefits that come with affirmative action. Conversely, a poor white kid could very much benefit from policies like affirmative action. Affirmative action has the right intentions—to help the disadvantaged—but it should not be based on race at all.
So, as I made clear from the beginning, I am not against affirmative action. I do, however, think it is an imperfect solution to an imperfect situation. Affirmative action creates a multitude of situations where it has the antithetical effect from what its creators intended.
At the end of the day, the goal is to created a unified and meritocratic society. But how do we achieve that? And is affirmative action ultimately helping or harming the process? I cannot claim to be brilliant enough to answer these questions—but I do know that they need to be asked.

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