There is no denying that diversity of students is a must for higher education, but affirmative action is not the best way to go about ensuring this.
The case of Fischer vs. The University of Texas may end up eliminating the use of race in the admissions process to ensure diversity of the student body. The Supreme Court has previously upheld the value of diversity in 2003’s Grutter vs. Bollinger decision, and the new case does not challenge that diversity is an admirable goal — merely that affirmative action should not be used to achieve it.
Affirmative action does both minority and non-minority students a disservice. First, it presumes that race is a predominant factor in ensuring diversity of thought and opinion. While race, subjection to stereotypes and inherent societal discrimination can undoubtedly influence a student’s outlook, many other factors have the same effect.
Most notably, socioeconomic status is a greater determinant of diversity than strictly race. There is no doubt that students who work after school to support their families should be given a boost in the admissions process. But it is hard to argue that a wealthy minority student — with the same cultural exposures, academic and extracurricular opportunities as non-minority applicants — should be given special standing. Race and socioeconomic standing are unfortunately often inextricably linked, but here the socioeconomic standing of an applicant should be the determining factor.
Race is only one of many factors that contribute to diversity, yet college applicants are not given special privileges because of other factors that might contribute to a different life experience. One’s sexual identification, growing up in an abusive household or having family members that serve in the military are all factors that could make for a unique and diverse outlook that is valuable in a college classroom.
Of course, applicants can mention these factors in their college essays, but they are not asked directly about such experiences in the way they are about their race. Affirmative action presumes that race provides applicants with a unique outlook on life, even if that is not necessarily the case.
Affirmative action policies are aimed at erasing historical and current inequalities. Implicit in this argument is that increased interactions between non-minority and minority students through attending the same classes, living in the same dorms and partaking in the same college experience will help to end unfair stereotypes and discrimination. Still, upholding the outdated affirmative action policy actually breeds resentment.
Too often, white students claim that minority students only got into elite schools because of their race. While this may be true for some students — just as others were accepted for their legacy status — affirmative action disservices the many minority students who got in purely on academic and extracurricular merit.
Affirmative action is a well-intentioned idea, but it has become outdated. Admissions officers should be given the discretion to evaluate applicants on all of their merits and look at all of the factors that make them unique, diverse and a good addition to the student body. Race should not be given priority in this holistic review.
There is no doubt that race can add to the diversity of the student body, but a legal mandate for affirmative action is not the right way to ensure diversity. Rather, affirmative action can actually end up stifling the diversity of opinions and experiences that it seeks to promote.
Laura Engshuber is a senior in the College and a member of The Hoya’s editorial board.