Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story. This is a typical question offered as a supplementary essay for the Common Application. The Common Application is an undergraduate admission application that can be used to apply to any number of 700 member colleges all with the simple push of a button. This question and many other similar ones offer applicants a chance to share meaningful stories of their lives that can’t be quantified. No number out of 1600 can provide even a glimpse of insight into the unique set of circumstances that’s shaped any specific applicant. These supplementary essays are set up so that an admissions officer can read the application and connect with the applicant on a personal level, but now picture this scenario: An admissions officer picks up an application to review it and finds that every single part of the application that suggests the applicant’s race has been redacted. This may quickly become a grim reality if the 4 Asian American students that are suing Harvard win the case. They believed that they were more qualified to receive a spot in the class of 2018 than their minority counterparts, and because of affirmative action they are held at a higher standard for admission than other students. This lawsuit could put the affirmative action laws that are enforced all over the country in jeopardy.
The enforcement of affirmative action versus the elimination of affirmative action directly relate to the two terms equity vs equality, respectively. To fully understand the connection between the two similar sounding words and affirmative action, it’s imperative that the two words are differentiated. Equality is treating everyone the same. Equity is giving everyone what they need to be successful. Equality works to promote fairness, but it only works if everyone starts from the same place and requires the same help. Equity appears unfair on the surface because you are giving some people more help than others, but it actively moves everyone closer to success by so called, “leveling the playing field”. Giving students who come to school already behind in academics the same resources as somebody at the top of their class doesn’t successfully close the achievement gap. That is why students that have endured hardship, usually low-income students and students of minority groups, should be given the adequate amount of resources so they can succeed just as well as privileged top tier students. This is the importance of equity.
There are also some significant consequences to ignoring race. Primarily it strips the student of their identity. How would you feel if you were told you could not talk about your gender, your religion or your sexual orientation, that you could not discuss your disability or speak your own language? These can all be very key aspects that helped to shape a student and by judging a student without regards to the parts of their life that are important to them, you are essentially stripping them of that identity. Not only does silencing discussions about race effectively silence people whose lives have been shaped by race, it also prevents the unity of people across communities and may even pull these communities apart. Ignoring race denies students the chance to build bridges across communities and to understand the lived realities of race in America. Especially students who have never experienced hardship because of their race, and hardworking minority individuals that are eager to share their story. Race matters. As one of the top in the realm of higher education, Harvard is trying to enforce this in their school community by considering race in admissions. Its ultimate goal is to create a diverse community of students who can engage with and learn from people who are different, and carry those experiences with them after graduation and throughout their lives. Ultimately it’s not the content of the classes or the studied materials that you take with you but the experiences with new friends, new communities, and new ways of life. Pretending as though it is possible to be blind to race ensures schools will forever be divided.
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