Affirmative action. According to Cornell’s Legal Information Institute, it is the policy of promoting and educating people from historically-underrepresented minority groups. Affirmative action gained significant attention when a group of Asian-American students filed a lawsuit against Harvard University in 2014. The suit alleged that the admissions committee of Harvard had unfairly discriminated against Asian-Americans. According to “The Uncomfortable Truth about Affirmative Action and Asian-Americans,” from The New Yorker, a college counselor at Hunter College High School claimed that an admissions officer had made the decision to reject the applicants “because ‘so many’ of them ‘looked just like’ each other on paper.” The article also states that Asian-Americans are “demographically overrepresented” at selective colleges, but “underrepresented relative to the applicant pool.” In other words, Asian-Americans are being held to a higher standard than white Americans. But why? Why is it so much harder for Asian and other minority students to attempt to reach the same level of education as white students?
The reasons are complex, and centuries-old institutional racism and discrimination in America, which often excluded minority groups from having access to proper education, is likely to blame for the lack of diversity in many of America’s top colleges. The examples that demonstrate this are countless. According to the article “Affirmative Action Shouldn’t Be About Diversity,” from The Atlantic, author Kimberly Reyes describes her experience at the Bronx High School of Science where, as one of two black students in her class, she was unexpectedly asked to explain her thoughts on the n-word in front of her English class. She states that it was a terrifying experience where she was “expected to enhance the learning experience of my mostly white counterparts.” However, Reyes brings up that she supports Affirmative Action “as part of a broader reparations program: the point should be justice, not ‘diversity.”
This brings up an interesting and controversial point about the policy of affirmative action. It is essentially a system designed to, and lauded as, a way to increase the diversity of parts of the American education system. This inevitably leads to certain pitfalls, though. In Kimberly Reyes’s case, it meant she was expected to present herself as a novelty and exclusive insight into her experience, while she instead felt terrified by the prospect of being shown off. That is simply exploitation, and exploitation is largely the reason why affirmative action is needed in the first place. Furthermore, by opting simply to strive for diversity, high schools and colleges don’t incorporate all minority students into the system as well as they should. Instead, the acceptance is comparable to saying you “have a black friend” as an excuse for your self-justification of not being a racist. I think, instead of using affirmative action as a cheap means of increasing diversity and appearing better, it should be used, as Reyes suggests, as a way to promote those who have historically not seen justice in their education or jobs. I don’t know the best way to do this. I really don’t, and most people don’t know either. However, I think the first step towards solving the problem is changing the lens, and shifting the focus towards real change, not just vanity and superficial success.