Dialogue on race is limiting

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.

Irene Wang | Daily Trojan

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.

8 replies
  1. alumni
    alumni says:

    Centuries of wealth and privilege? Yeah, I don’t think you know anything about the poverty and starvation my people came from. Africans in America are behind because (among other handicaps) the African-American IQ bell curve is 15 points to the left of the white American IQ bell curve. But whites can’t ever be complacent, their bell curve is 3 points to the left of East Asians and 10 points to the left of Ashkenazic Jews. That’s all tested reality. Every individual should be judged on his or her own merits, but the idea of affirmative action lifting an entire class of people beyond their natural abilities is ridiculous, unjust, and has been rejected every time it’s been on a ballot.

  2. Milan Moravec
    Milan Moravec says:

    UC Berkeley (UCB) pulls back access and affordability to instate Californians. Chancellor Robert J Birgeneau displaces Californians qualified for public Cal. with a $50,600 payment from born abroad foreign and out of state affluent students. And, foreign and out of state tuition is subsidized in the guise of diversity while instate tuition/fees are doubled.

    UCB is not increasing enrollment. Birgeneau accepts $50,600 foreign students and displaces qualified instate Californians (When depreciation of Calif. funded assets are included (as they should be), out of state and foreign tuition is more than $100,000 + and does NOT subsidize instate tuition). Like Coaches, Chancellors Who Do Not Measure-Up Must Go.

    More recently, Chancellor Birgeneau’s campus police deployed violent baton jabs on Cal. students protesting Birgeneau’s tuition increases. The sky will not fall when Birgeneau and his $450,000 salary are ousted. Opinions make a difference; email UC Board of Regents

  3. curtrice
    curtrice says:

    The idea that people can be selected “purely” on merit, as one commenter above seems to suggest, is simply not realistic. Why would purely objective merit criteria give a complete lack of ethnic diversity? That just doesn’t make sense. The systems are subjective, and the discussion here is about which subjective criteria can be used and which can’t. For more, see “Two lessons on diversity from Smith College” at http://curt-rice.com.

  4. Ras
    Ras says:

    The author of this article really did not bring anything to the discussion of racism and AA as it pertains to the admissions process. If all you are saying to students is IGNORE policies that determine how a student will be accepted — that is just plain “stick your head in the sand” dumb. If we really want diversity everywhere- do you ever stop and wonder why we do not have AA as it pertains to college level and pro-sports? It is because we want the best of the best to compete and not just the most politically correct looking bench. Even a child would be able to see how dishonest a team would look like if it was not composed of the best on their merits but also on their race. I also have a quote that resonates with me about race.

    ““There is another class of colored people who make a business of keeping the troubles, the wrongs, and the hardships of the Negro race before the public. Having learned that they are able to make a living out of their troubles, they have grown into the settled habit of advertising their wrongs, partly because they want sympathy and partly because it pays. Some of these people do not want the Negro to lose his grievances, because they do not want to lose their jobs.”… Booker T. Washington …1904”

    • Chris
      Chris says:

      A child is ignorant to how America has treated non-white peoples of this world and how disenfranchised people of color/indigenous peoples have become today.

  5. Alex
    Alex says:

    Fighting racism with racism will not solve the problem.

    If wealth and privilege are truly the indicators of the head start “white straight dudes” had, then college admissions considering socioeconomic status would be more beneficial. Race-based admissions hurt everyone.

  6. Chris
    Chris says:

    I just realized that’s a hell of a long comment….if its too long for anyone, the quote at the bottom of the comment will suffice my point. Peace.

  7. Chris
    Chris says:

    Jasmine, thanks a lot for bringing more exposure on this important issue. It’s definitely an issue that needs to be looked at from the root and in a holistic manner. People need to realize that the genuine rewards and treasures of this nation (institutions like property ownership, public office, higher education) were meant for at one point “free white persons” and while its bollocks for people to think affirmative action (AA) is a means of “reparation” – it should certainly be used ensure diversity and advance the education opportunities, not of an individual, but of a minority demographic (such as LGBT, people of color, disability), to advance the possibilities of them prospering at the highest levels of education. Education is widely seen as a vehicle that allows for upward mobility in America’s socio-economic ladder and what we are seeing in the U.S. right now is people of color (particularly Black Americans and Latin@s, Native Americans) not showing their true numerical and academic potential in colleges. Now, of course all kinds of people dismiss AA, but the majority of people (whom I’ve encountered) who oppose AA are white Americans. They call it the usual names of “reverse racism” and say it deviates from what a person should solely be measured on – their merit. However, we live in a pigmentocracy where race and your skin color is role that defines your circumstances at times because institutional racism exists? Proof? Look up terms like: racial profiling, demographics in jails/prisons versus demographics in colleges, number of minorities in military, and number of people serving as conglomerate CEO’s and Fortune 500 companies. When a minority does not have the $ and is still just as qualified as their “dominant” counterpart (white people), the preference should be given to minorities since this country was built and became the self proclaimed “sole remaining superpower” by having slavery, terminating millions of the indigenous peoples of this land, taking away this land from a sovereign nation, and state sanctioning racist institutions like slavery, Chinese Exclusion, Japanese interment, Trail of Dreams, 1930’s deportation of Mex-Am citizens, and currently xenophobic laws against people w/out papers (who happen to be people of color and minorities). AA will not make America alleviate the white guilt nor will it solve major problems, but it will work to close the gap in an area of life where education was only meant for wealthy white individuals. Finally, I end with this quote. Peace.

    “The only way you can truly complain about Affirmative Action is if you ignore historical context—if you ignore a society that was built from the ground up on discrimination. People love to use sports metaphors like “Oh, it’s not fair! If this was a race…” If this was an actual race, the way you would look at it is that white straight dudes got to start running about four hundred years ago. Everyone else, slowed down by their slave chains and their vaginas, which are apparently very heavy, weren’t allowed to run. Now these things are being put into place so that they have a fighting chance against centuries long lines of wealth and privilege.”
    — Elon James White

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