Staff Editorial: Making Affirmative Action More Effective

In light of the Harvard Court Case, affirmative action is brought back to attention. With the rising controversy between recognizing academic decisions and promoting diversity, it is crucial to understand the original purpose of affirmative action: promote a diverse campus and support disadvantaged students. However, rather than solely looking at race, it should simultaneously analyze racial background, socioeconomic status and demographics.

Although it supports disadvantaged students, affirmative action has also angered many who may have a difficult time being admitted to certain schools due to their classification as a student of a majority race. Such feelings of resentment are apparent, as proven by the 1960 Regents of University of California vs. Bakke, a court case eliminating the review of race in applications. This legal precedent signals an important detail: affirmative action is not assessing all the factors that tie into diversity.

By redefining affirmative action, colleges must begin to analyze socioeconomic status, such as family income, and the demographics of a student, such as where the student has matriculated.

According to research by Alyssa VanderStel from Grand Valley State University, “a lower family income left students struggling to achieve in class. Factors that a school is able to control, such as educational level and teaching experience of the staff, have little to do with student performance; but socioeconomic factors present in schools seem to significantly influence a student’s ability to succeed.”

Public education systems of certain districts could vary drastically to other well-funded districts. Because both demographic (the resources offered at high school) and socioeconomic (family income) are out of an applicant’s control, implementing these into the affirmative action process helps eliminate specific racial discrimination while encouraging the idea that education can still be accessible.

Certain students are given access to resources that nurture academic growth, but this is relative to where the student has studied, or how much money a student’s family is willing to invest. An underachieving student could be from a lower socioeconomic background, which could justify admission over a high-achieving student from an affluent family; however, just admitting students from a minority race over a student classified as a majority with high SAT scores has proven to be problematic.

While removing affirmative action altogether may seem to be a plausible solution, its effects on the UC systems have shown to limit diversity significantly. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, “statistics show that after California abolished its affirmative action programs in 1998, the minority student admissions at UC Berkeley fell 61 percent, and minority admissions at UCLA fell 36 percent.”

Research has proven that learning in diverse environments brings benefits for all enrolled students that cannot be easily obtained otherwise. According to Jeremy Hyman and Lynn Jacobs in an article from the U.S. News and World Report, “diversity enriches the multiple perspectives … helping to liberate you from the tunnel vision of an ethnocentric and egocentric viewpoint.”

Similar to how diversity does not just entail the percentage of students of a certain race, the admissions process is also not to be looked at through the lens of just race; it must also emphasize socioeconomic and demographic diversity. Expanding affirmative action is essential to achieving diversity on a campus as it benefits not only the minority race, but the campus as a whole, including students of a majority race.