Affirmative action remains crucial

High school senior Suzy Lee Weiss recently hit the national spotlight after writing a controversial letter to the Wall Street Journal titled “To (All) the Colleges that Rejected Me.

Juno Zhu | Daily Trojan

Juno Zhu | Daily Trojan

In it, Weiss, who is Caucasian, mentions that one of the reasons for her rejection from an elite undergraduate institution is her lack of “diversity.”

“For starters, had I known two years ago what I know now, I would have gladly worn a headdress to school. Show me to any closet, and I would’ve happily come out of it,” she writes.

To continue, Weiss adds how “if it were up to me, I would’ve been any of the diversities: Navajo, Pacific Islander, anything.”

To call Weiss’ letter a racist rant would be going a bit too far, but the letter does reveal some distasteful thoughts coming from an out-of-touch young woman. And, most importantly, this whole situation highlights a great problem within contemporary American thinking about race: In her mind, growing up with business-owner parents, a standard education and white skin are disadvantages.

There is no debate that people of color face dramatically longer odds when it comes to economic subsistence. When examining statistics from 2009, the median net worth of white households was $113,149, compared with $6,325 for Hispanics and $5,677 for blacks, according to the Pew Research Center.

Just last week, BET founder Bob Johnson said the United States would “never tolerate white unemployment at 14 or 15 percent,” despite the fact that the rate of black unemployment has been consistently more than double that of white unemployment for the past five decades.

To the point of Weiss’ letter, education — universally hailed as the driving means of raising people out of poverty — also has a large achievement gap between races. According to the Pew Research Center, about 40 percent of Caucasians between the ages of 25 and 29 have a four-year degree, but the rate falls to 23 for blacks and 15 percent for Hispanics of the same age range.

Weiss is going to go to college. Despite how her letter portrays herself, she has been accepted to a number of other prestigious institutions that will provide her with the skillset to be a “successful” person. Meanwhile, the fact that far fewer black and Hispanic students have a four-year degree when compared with their white peers is a problem that is not getting better with time.

Affirmative action in education has been shown to be successful, and there is no question that minority students suffer without it. Just compare statistics from 1995 — the year the University of California elected to eliminate affirmative action — to today. In 1995, black students composed 7.3 percent of admitted freshmen at UC Berkeley. But, in 2012, that number was projected to be 3.5 percent. The same is reflected at UCLA, where the rate dropped from 6.7 percent to 3.8 percent.

The case can be made that minority students don’t get accepted without affirmative action simply because they are not qualified. But though there might be a sliver of truth to this statement, the dramatic correlations between race, wealth and achievement make it inexcusable to not help people of color receive the education needed to escape poverty, especially considering the fact that the United States’ problematic education system makes it difficult for many minority students to truly show their potential at school.

Affirmative action is an understandably controversial topic, but the original aims of affirmative action are often lost in the red-herring claims of the policy as a form of reparations and reverse racism.

The purpose of affirmative action in education is to provide minority individuals with equal opportunities by leveling an uneven playing field and giving children a fairer chance to succeed in school and in life. For one, it has been shown that children of college-educated parents, regardless of the parents’ prior histories, have statistical advantages for greater achievement than do the children of parents without similar educations.

With the deck already stacked against minority youth with aspirations of higher education,  affirmative action is one of the few measures that contributes to genuine racial equality.

Yet affirmative action continues to be threatened in education. A case currently before the Supreme Court, Fisher v. University of Texas, aims to reverse the 2003 court case Grutter v. Bollinger, which upheld affirmative action admissions practices. A ruling could mean the end of affirmative action practices in public universities.

Hopefully, years from now, Weiss will realize her mistake in taking such a callous view toward racial equality in schools. Chances are, she’ll at least be extremely embarrassed by her immature words. Small cases such as this only go to show how far the U.S. has come and how far we still need to go.


Matthew Tinoco is a freshman majoring in print and digital journalism and comparative literature.


5 replies
  1. Robert
    Robert says:

    Affirmatice action is nothing more than reverse discrimination. I guess when we have the caucasian race at the bottom of the ladder everyone will be ok with that. But, now we need a system to cater to all folks who are not white. The majority of the problem is within the ethnic groups who lack the strong family structure and push for education that is needed to have successful children. It is a cycle that repeats itself over and over, but the thought that society and educational institutions are all stacked up against everyone from different ethnic backgrounds is retarded. You will never have some eqaul split, which is what I think many seek. There are many factors for the applicants besides demographics that play a part. As a previous coment stated, the Supreme Court struck down that idiotic practice because it is not the solution.

  2. Sean
    Sean says:

    This author continually notes that the “playing field” is not “leveled” and that minorities have it harder than Caucasians (by citing the scientific accuracy of a statement from the founder of BET), without ever providing a reason or evidence for this disadvantage. He takes it as a given that there is an inherent inability for Hispanic or African-Ameircan students to do as well as Caucasian students academically. The discrepancy is economic, not racial. The more AA stays racial, the more reverse racism will be an actual reality. To say that race is the SOLE culprit of this discrepancy is misguided and ignorant at best, flat-out stupid and, dare I say, racist at worst. Not only does it imply that affluent Hispanics or African-Americans still need the help because of their inherent academic inabilities, but also that underprivileged Caucasians will run into none of the problems of underprivileged minorities because, well, they’re white obviously.

  3. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    In concurrence with some of the previous comments, I’d like to say that economic affirmative action far better serves the purported objectives than racial affirmative action.

  4. Roger Clegg
    Roger Clegg says:

    The “leveling the playing field” justification for racial preferences is a nonstarter, since the Supreme Court long ago rejected it, and it is no longer offered by universities. And the Court was right to reject it, since there are people of all colors at both ends of the playing field, so it makes no sense to use skin color as a proxy for disadvantage. Indeed, 86 percent of the African Americans who are admitted to the more selective schools come from middle- or upper-class backgrounds.

    In any event, not only does the columnist not give any good reason for this discrimination, but he ignores all the costs: It is personally unfair, passes over better qualified students, and sets a disturbing legal, political, and moral precedent in allowing racial discrimination; it creates resentment; it stigmatizes the so-called beneficiaries in the eyes of their classmates, teachers, and themselves, as well as future employers, clients, and patients; it mismatches African Americans and Latinos with institutions, setting them up for failure (the columnist gives the admission numbers for UC post Prop 209, but not the graduation numbers); it fosters a victim mindset, removes the incentive for academic excellence, and encourages separatism; it compromises the academic mission of the university and lowers the overall academic quality of the student body; it creates pressure to discriminate in grading and graduation; it breeds hypocrisy within the school and encourages a scofflaw attitude among college officials; it papers over the real social problem of why so many African Americans and Latinos are academically uncompetitive; and it gets states and schools involved in unsavory activities like deciding which racial and ethnic minorities will be favored and which ones not, and how much blood is needed to establish group membership – an untenable legal regime as America becomes an increasingly multiracial, multiethnic society and as individual Americans are themselves more and more likely to be multiracial and multiethnic (starting with our president).

  5. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    To the Author:

    While I agree with your premise that racial equality in school is good and beneficial to students, I disagree with the assumption you make that the modern realities of affirmative action are equal to its original intents. Affirmative action today should be geared to economic inequalities rather than racial ones. Doing so would largely achieve the same goal of creating greater racial diversity, since as you yourself pointed out, minorities tend to have lower average annual incomes. However, it would stop the misuse of the program, in which minority youths who grew up equally affluent to their Caucasian counterparts are given an advantage simply because of the color of their skin.

    This is what Ms. Weiss was pointing out. If, in the instances when minority youths are raised in equally affluent and opportunity-enabled societies as their Caucasian counterparts, we continue to allow affirmative action to take place it IS racism (I refuse to use the term reverse-racism). One racial group is being favored over another, simply because of the color of their skin. Ms. Weiss should be praised for speaking so fairly about a system that has been often misused. She may have gotten into other prestigious universities, but that does not mean she should have to settle for a lesser school merely because she is Caucasian.

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