Affirmative Action, Imperative to Equality

Intelligence has nothing do with race, but race has everything to do with access to education. Affirmative action is essential in helping to create a more equal society. The principle behind affirmative action is simple: the historical and modern discrimination of racial minorities should be considered during college admissions, as it adds the benefit of increased tolerance and education on college campuses.

The national achievement gap is calculated by subtracting the average standardized mathematics and reading scores of 8th-grade minorities from those of white students. Currently, the national achievement gap between black and white students is 27.5 points and 23.5 points for Hispanic and white students. These disparities between educational levels are directly due to the underfunding and the constant neglect of predominately black and Hispanic public schools across America. According to the U.S. Department of Education, black and Hispanic children in segregated schools have the least qualified and inexperienced teachers, the worst course offerings and the worst facilities. Furthermore, these schools usually have a high population of kids in poverty. Poverty affects simple things like not eating breakfast or lunch; however this drastically declines student performance.

Segregation in schools across America now is worse than it was in 1968. Similar to how the U.S. government abandoned the Reconstruction Era after a meager 12 years, they also abandoned desegregation, a type of affirmative action, after only 17 years. At the height of desegregation in 1988, the achievement gap between black and white students was 18 points, almost 10 points lower than the current achievement gap. Somehow, the current state of public schools in America is worse than it was three decades ago. This statistic proves that desegregation was working, but because of unwarranted fears, white flight (when white families left integrated neighborhoods), rezoning of districts, and the ending of the desegregation busing program, schools slowly began to become more racially homogenous.

When it comes to college admissions, differential treatment is already given to students with particular interests outside of grades and scores, and a student that goes to an underfunded public school is already far behind a privileged student that attends a predominantly white school. Students at public schools often have to navigate the college application process without the help of a dedicated college counselor. And when it comes to the SATs, tutoring—a tool most privileged students take advantage of — is out of reach. Although students can pursue athletic scholarships (a form of affirmative action for athletes), sports like squash, hockey, lacrosse, and crew, are too expensive for most underfunded public schools, giving priority to students that attend schools in wealthy neighborhoods that do offer them. Furthermore, connections to colleges, like being a “legacy” are exclusive to students that have a long lineage of wealth — something that most minorities in America do not have.

Recently, the late Supreme Court Justice Scalia came under scrutiny for suggesting that black students would be better of at “slower­-track” colleges. What Scalia didn’t understand is that the belief that unqualified students will get admitted to colleges under affirmative action is mostly inaccurate. It is not beneficial for a college to admit someone that will not thrive on their campus. And according to the Electronic Code of Federal Regulations, 2011, the Federal Government deemed accepting unqualified students through affirmative action illegal. Although students can be admitted with lesser scores/grades than other applicants, this practice is very unlikely compared to the more common practice of using race or gender as a “tiebreaker” when comparing nearly identical applicants through affirmative action.

Furthermore, affirmative action is imperative to ensure diversity, which is an important component of education. According to data compiled by the National Center for Education Statistics, when affirmative action was banned in several states across America, the amount of black and Hispanic students took a nosedive. This also gives an inaccurate image of what the surrounding community looks like. For instance, 24% of the college-­aged residents in Florida (a state where affirmative action is banned) are black, but they account for only seven percent of the Florida State admitted freshman. This means that the students that do go to Florida State are less likely to have meaningful relationships with people of color and to be comfortable with discussing race—a discomfort that is felt here on the St. George’s campus as well.

This constant discrimination and lack of resources minorities struggle with are the reason programs like affirmative action were created in the first place. As President Lyndon B. Johnson said,

“You do not take a person who, for years, has been hobbled by chains and liberate him, bring him up to the starting line of a race and then say you are free to compete with all the others, and still just believe that you have been completely fair.”

Thus, considering situations that may adversely affect the educational level of students isn’t a form of “reverse discrimination”, which is not real, but an instrument of inclusion that serves to balance the exclusion minorities have faced in the past and will face in the future. Affirmative action works, but it only works if it continues to exist.

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