Affirmative action in higher education has been a very controversial topic in the American education system for several years. Many people around the world have constructed their own ideal definition of what affirmative action means to them, leading others to have a confused misconception of what the true meaning of affirmative action is. Affirmative action can be acknowledged as a form of “positive discrimination”. It is a policy that was created in 1961 by President John F. Kennedy to favor those who tend to be discriminated against in areas of employment and education. It is primarily appointed to help women, minorities such as Native Americans, African Americans, Hispanics, Asians, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) individuals, and those that are disabled. In March of 1961, President Kennedy issued Executive Order 10925, establishing the President’s Committee on Equal Employment Opportunity. The mission of this executive order was to end discrimination in employment and education by the federal government and its contractors. It was this order that initiated our national commitment to affirmative action in both the workplace and in higher education— “…our determination to take positive steps to extirpate all preference by race” (Cohen 12).
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Many people believe that affirmative action is a form of racism or discrimination in the school system, however it is actually a forum by which minorities have a better opportunity to obtain higher education in what can be presumed as a racist world. On the contrary, critics have insisted that affirmative action is ill-favored and objectionable. Barry Gross proclaims that it is unfair to the white males against whom it discriminates. He states that non-minority males are deprived of equal opportunity because affirmative action selects minorities or women candidates over more qualified non-minority males (Cohen 264).
A various amount of critics and scholars provide impressive amounts of debatable ideas in regards to affirmative action in higher education. The efforts of affirmative action to improve the racial disparities in higher education in America does not create a practical solution but rather, it creates the same type of divided environment that was previously present in society due to racial disadvantages and it also faces the same struggle that it tries to extinguish. In this essay, I will concentrate on these problems in regard to the policy of affirmative action as well as delve deeper into how minorities of different ethnicities and sexualities are affected by the policy.
Affirmative action may not be a practical solution to maintaining fair grounds for all people in the college admission process. It creates more of a divided environment in that the current forum does not reflect a level playing field for all people as promised by the program when it was first introduced. According to NPR, Americans were surveyed by the management consulting company Gallup. The findings from the survey indicate that Americans largely support the idea of affirmative action but also oppose preferential treatment for minorities in the college admissions process. 70% of Americans suggested that the ethnic and racial background of college applicants should not be considered but college applicants should be exclusively judged on their academic merit only, even if that ultimately means a smaller amount of minority individuals are admitted to college (Rozen 1). This is where the concept of affirmative action in higher education has many conflicting viewpoints. If college applicants were to be judged solely on their academic merit, colleges all around the nation would not have a diverse group of students and it would prohibit several groups of people from obtaining the proper education that is needed in order to prosper and succeed. For this reason, college admission officers try to look at every single applicant with a holistic review so that everything about a person and their background is taken into account. With this approach, admission officers are able to look at the numerical and non-numerical aspects of an applicant so that they can admit interesting students of different demographics that have something meaningful to bring to the college’s community.
In order to move forward towards a more just and equal society when in comes to acquiring a good education, it is imperative that the demographics of people that have been negatively impacted by discrimination are given the same opportunity that non minorities have already had for several decades. Chambers writes, “Even the strongest critics of affirmative action acknowledge that to advance toward a colorblind (racially just) and gender-free (sexually just) society, we will sometimes have to depart from the status quo, for example, by favoring qualified women or minority candidates over qualified men or non minority candidates when the qualified women or minority candidates have themselves directly suffered from proven past discrimination” (Chambers 202). Many men or non minority candidates tend to often dispute that affirmative action presents a form of “reverse discrimination” towards them and does not give them a level playing field to get accepted into college. Contradictorily, a majority of the student population at colleges in the United States are made up of at least 50% caucasian students somewhat proving that “reverse discrimination” in the college system and in affirmative action does not exist. Affirmative action is solely there just to give minorities a fair chance to go to college too. Furthermore, Jan Boxill, an American academic who was Senior Lecturer in Philosophy (ethics) at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, builds upon this stance by stating, “Although these nonminority males may not actually have discriminated against women and minorities themselves, Boxill argues that they have benefited from the discrimination of others, for example, through unequal educational opportunities. Hence, women and minorities do deserve compensation for this unjust discrimination, and, moreover, affirmative action seems to be an appropriate form of compensation” (Cohen 265). Giving minorities more of an opportunity to obtain a good education allows for a more diverse group of people to have the required level of expertise to get a good job after college and pursue a successful career.
In addition, even though affirmative action was created to help minorities, it is still hurting the chances of a large demographic of people from getting into college. Asians are one of the minority groups that are greatly impacted in the college admissions process. “…Harvard uses the important “personal” rating to deflate Asian American admission chances, while it inflates the chances for blacks and Hispanics. A chart was displayed showing racial categories of students who had earned the highest academic scores. The top Asian Americans consistently received the lowest “personal” ratings, while the top African American applicants were awarded the highest “personal” ratings” (Biskupic 1). Asians are currently being discriminated against in the college admissions process because so many of them apply to colleges and tend to usually be well qualified in the numerical aspects of their applications. However, admissions officers do not believe that they are qualified in the non numerical aspects of their application. Asian Americans found that Harvard admissions uses racist stereotypes to describe Asian students. This method of unfair treatment led to a lawsuit being filed against the university for discriminating against Asian American applicants (Wong 1). It is assumed that if colleges were to accept even more Asian Americans over other minorities, the demographics of minorities at colleges would be mostly made up of Asians, which would conclude to a less diverse community. This is a big problem along with many others that needs to be addressed. Even though affirmative action was created to make a level playing field for all college applicants, it seems that it is slowly diverting away from its main purpose and actually hurting those that it is supposed to help.
Affirmative Action in Higher Education. (2019, Oct 30).
Retrieved February 5, 2023 , from
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