On June 29th, 2023, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Affirmative Action policies could no longer be justified in admittance to higher education institutions. In a case involving both Harvard University and the University of North Carolina, the majority of Justices failed to see the benefits of these policies. They were correct. While Affirmative Action in the United States was previously needed and perhaps beneficial, there have since been simply too many Affirmative Action examples leading to wrongful discriminations. Modern discriminations may not be the same as those that these original measures sought to eliminate… but they highlight the modern hypocrisy that Affirmative Action policies have come to represent.
Naturally, there are those who applauded the Court’s ruling, as well as many who criticized it. Such lines tend to fall along liberal versus conservative points of view. But let’s take a step back and look at Affirmative Action in the United States in a more objective manner. Did Affirmative Action achieve what it was supposed to achieve? And even if it did so early on, is it continuing to address existing discriminations today among university students? Do modern Affirmative Action examples enhance diversity, equity and inclusion while promoting meritocracy? And is Affirmative Action really the progressive policy advancing higher learning in the country for the future? The answers to these questions should be the ones that best determine the fate of Affirmative Action in the United States.
The Good Intentions of Affirmative Action
The origins of Affirmative Action in the United States dates back to 1961. President Kennedy issued an executive order pertaining the to fair hiring of government contractors. Such hires should be made without regard to race, creed, color, or national origin. It would not be long before similar Affirmative Action policies be adopted by other entities including public colleges and universities. The goal, of course, was to overcome longstanding racial discriminations that had been created via slavery and Jim Crow laws. In this regard, Affirmative Action was to help racial minorities overcome barriers of influence, affluence, and privilege. And to some extent, it did help achieve a more even playing field for college admissions.
In the years to follow, challenges to Affirmative Action gradually increased, especially within the legal system. There were a number of various Affirmative Action examples where policies failed to promote true equality and anti-discrimination. Courts eventually ruled that implementing racial quotas to achieve desired student race percentages was unconstitutional. This led colleges and universities to shift gears in how they approached admissions. Under the concept of “racially conscious” admission decisions, universities sought to diversify student bodies for the benefit of students. In other words, Affirmative Action was no longer being used to overcome racial barriers of America’s past. Instead, it was being used to ensure students could be exposed to racially diverse points of view.
Affirmative Action’s Reality in the United States
Since the implementation of Affirmative Action in the United States, research has supported the advantages of diversity, inclusion, and equity. From this perspective, it might be presumed that a racially diverse student body would offer benefits. But such a view is narrow-minded and fails to embrace the true nature of diversity. While student experiences are greatly affected by race, this is only one factor that comprises diversity. Gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, and religious practices, and socioeconomic factors are others. The problem in reality is that schools focused too heavily on race without honoring other components of diversity. It’s therefore not surprising that modern Affirmative Action examples fall well short of the intended mark.
The shortcomings of Affirmative Action in the United States today are well documented. Some notable examples include medical school enrolments. According to the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), marked discrepancies in GPAs and MCAT scores exist among racial groups. For African American students accepted, the average GPA is 3.55 with MCAT scores in the 64th percentile. Yet, for Asian Americans, the average GPA is 3.80 with MCAT scores in the 89th percentile range. In other words, the bar is set much lower for African Americans than it is for Asian Americans simply based in race. Affirmative Action examples like this lie at the heart of the recent U.S. Supreme court case. Affirmative Action in the United States has made it easier for some racial minorities but not others. Basically, the reality of these policies is that they have simply shifted one process of racial discrimination for another.
Expanding the Diversity Wheel
Under the current admissions processes, universities and colleges continue to discriminate based on a variety of factors. This is certainly true of some of the most prestigious universities. Affirmative Action examples certainly show that reverse racial discriminations are occurring commonly among some schools. But beyond this, many schools discriminate according to additional variables. Relatives of school donors often receive preferential consideration as do children of college professors and staff. Athletic abilities and whether or not a parent is an alumni of a college also affected admission decisions. Indeed, Affirmative Action in the United States has undermined academic meritocracy based on race. But race is definitely not the only issue negatively affecting equality of opportunity in modern times.
Understanding this, there’s little question that Affirmative Action in the United States has run its course. It might have helped in its early years, allowing racial minorities to overcome longstanding obstacles to higher education. But Affirmative Action examples today show it fuels its own versions of racial discrimination, which it was supposed to address. In short, Affirmative Action was too narrowly focused to be truly effective. This level of government oversight was never meant to be a long-term solution but instead a catalyst for change. Fortunately, Affirmative action has come to an end, hopefully paving the way for a better approach.
It’s time for colleges and universities to honor the very concept of diversity, equity, and inclusion they claim to pursue. This means expanding the diversity wheel to include more than just gender, race, and ethnicity. It means diversifying on the basis of socioeconomic status, religion, political ideologies, and so much more. This will not be accomplished through broad policies but instead through individual student considerations. And it won’t be achieved as long as influence, affluence, and privilege are allowed to contaminate the admissions process.