Affirmative action is a loaded term: Bring it up in any conversation, and you’re bound to elicit a strong opinion or two.
Its use — which generally refers to policies that take race, religion, gender or sexual orientation into consideration — is one of the most debated topics today, particularly in the realm of college admissions.
The Supreme Court recently agreed to hear a case involving the use of affirmative action at the University of Texas, where a white student claimed that the university denied her admission based on her race.
If the justices decide to overturn the use of affirmative action, the outcome of the case could eliminate diversity as justification for considering race in admission.
But the case only shows one side of the picture.
In California, the use of affirmative action in the college admissions process was banned in 1996, although the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is currently considering whether to lift the state’s ban because of a drop in diversity.
The affirmative action controversy ultimately clouds the college admissions process. It serves to confuse students and detract from the true meaning of applying for college: showing one’s best self.
Supporters of affirmative action argue that it is necessary to maintain and promote diversity on college campuses. They also believe it helps reduce racial and ethnic tensions and stereotypes and prevent discrimination.
Opponents of affirmative action maintain that it leads to reverse discrimination, lower standards of accountability and detraction from genuine minority achievement.
In another controversial affirmative action case, an Asian-American student with a perfect SAT score complained that he was denied admission to Harvard University based on reverse discrimination bias.
The University of Texas and Harvard University cases leave some people wondering: Overall, what kind of candidates were these students? Did they have rich high school experiences? What were they passionate about? What did they use to differentiate themselves, aside from their grades and test scores?
Without downplaying the importance of race, it is important to note that race is not the only measure of diversity, nor should it be a deciding factor in the admissions process.
It’s difficult to draw a direct correlation between race and a student’s ability to get into a top-tier university.
There’s the compounding effect of race and income, the influence of a student’s household environment and how invested his or her parents are in education, along with a host of other demographic, economic, geographic and social factors.
The college admissions process should be about matching students’ individual passions, talents and academic interests with a university that’s the right fit.
On Oct. 20 2011, Adam Liptak, Supreme Court correspondent for The New York Times, brought a refreshing and pragmatic view to the table.
“From the applicant’s perspective, I don’t think very much would change,” Liptak said in an article. “Applicants would continue to try to demonstrate that they would be strong and interesting students, highlighting their achievements and the ways in which they could contribute to a vibrant intellectual community.”
No matter how the affirmative action cases play out in court, students should continue to focus on their strengths and interests and to support each other in their academic endeavors.
Ultimately, what the courts and college admissions officers decide is out of students’ control.
In the face of change and ambiguity, students can best react by taking ownership of their success. Whether that means acting in a school play or learning a new language, students can develop and nurture their interests in a variety of ways.
The college admissions process is only getting more competitive. Students can best differentiate themselves from other applicants by broadening their interests and passions through meaningful experiences.
Looking toward the future, I hope that race won’t be a factor in the admissions process. But as of now, it certainly won’t hurt for students to focus on what lies within their scope of control, rather than getting tied up in the heat of the issue.
Jasmine Ako is a senior majoring in business administration.