Reject unfair criticism of affirmative action on college campuses
On Aug. 3, the Boston Globe published an article revealing that the majority of the students accepted into Harvard University’s class of 2021 were non-white. While this is true, it still remains that the seated class of 2021 — the students who actually enrolled — is more than 50.8 percent white and 47.9 percent non-white, according to data from a freshman survey conducted by the Harvard Crimson. Despite this, admissions methods such as affirmative action are still being called into question for the alleged discrimination against white applicants. According to an Aug.1 New York Times article, the Trump administration is looking to investigate and possibly sue institutions with admissions policies that seem to discriminate against white applicants. An official document obtained by the Times mentions investigating practices that support “intentional race-based discrimination,” which clearly alludes to programs designed to increase the number of students of color on college campuses. Per the same Times article, Roger Clegg, a former top official of civil rights during the Ronald Reagan administration, stated that civil rights laws were meant to protect students against discrimination, yet white and Asian students are often overlooked.
Reminiscent of the 2016 U.S. Supreme Court case Fisher v. University of Texas, current Duke University student Austin Jia and several others are now at the center of a lawsuit regarding race-based discrimination. According to an Aug. 2 New York Times article, Jia was a stellar student in high school: high GPA, near perfect SAT score and involvement in several clubs. When he was rejected from top Ivy League schools while his non-Asian classmates with lower GPAs were accepted, he began to question the validity of current admissions processes. According to the same Times article, a Princeton study found that students who identify as Asian need to score 140 points higher on the SAT than white students in order to be a qualified candidate, a phenomenon known to some as the “Asian tax.” The article also mentions that Ivy League schools also seem to have a cap on the number of Asian students admitted; in 2013, 14 to 18 percent of students at Harvard and five other schools were Asian. However, the classes of 2020 and 2021 have seen an increase with 22 to 28 percent of accepted students identifying as Asian, according to each University’s self reported data.
Though students’ feelings are justified, and they reserve the right to question their acceptance status, race is not the only factor that determines one’s acceptance into an Ivy League school. Who would a university rather have — the student with a 3.9 GPA who had to travel 3 hours every day to get to class and work to help pay for school fees, or the student with a 4.5 GPA from a middle class family who was captain of clubs yet faced no adversity? Current admissions standards encourage schools to look at the holistic image of a student. They want a student who has shown resilience and still has the determination to apply themselves in school, as opposed to a student who is a cookie cutter mold of all their other applicants.
The American Civil Liberties Union describes affirmative action as any measure that takes race, national origin, sex or disability into consideration to provide opportunities to individuals that have been historically denied these opportunities. According to a June 16 CNN article, affirmative action dates back to President Lyndon B. Johnson’s Civil Rights Act of 1964 that prohibited discrimination in public workplaces. It was first challenged in 1978 Regents of the University of California v. Bakke case. Here, a committee of minorities oversaw admission for other students who identified as minorities and began accepting students on that sole basis. Students admitted under this “special admissions program”’ were not required to meet the University’s 2.5 GPA cutoff and were not ranked against other students in the admissions process. It is clear how this is a violation of anti-discriminatory admissions practices that favors minority students — which is why it was declared unjust. What the case did determine, however, is that race is still a valid portion of an applicant’s holistic picture so long as it is not the sole basis for admission. Another such case was Grutter v. Bollinger; Barbara Grutter, a white Michigan resident, was denied entrance to the University of Michigan Law School despite her high GPA and LSAT score. Though she felt that she was denied admission based on race, the court ruled that since the school conducts a specialized review of each individual student, no student’s acceptance or rejection was based on race.
Though individuals like Austin Jia and Barbara Grutter feel that affirmative action works to their detriment, it still stands that Black and Hispanic students are underrepresented in top colleges. According to an Aug. 24 New York Times article, as of 2015, Black students only make up 9 percent of students in elite schools — a figure that is practically unchanged from 1980. Hispanic students comprise 15 percent, an increase from 1980, yet a relatively low percent when one considers the rising number of Hispanic youths in the United States. According to the Pew Research center, as of 2014, there were 17.9 million Hispanic youths aged 18 and under in the United States.
Looking at all 8 Ivy League schools, Black and Hispanic enrollment has seen little change while white enrollment has decreased and Asian enrollment has increased. Similarly for top liberal arts colleges, Black and Hispanic enrollment remains historically low, with enrollment increasing only in a few schools, such as Amherst College. Since 1980, Amherst has shown an eight percent point increase in Black students and a 13 percent point increase in Hispanic students, while Pomona College has seen a 9 percent point increase in Black students and a 16 percent point increase in Hispanic students. Other top universities, including Caltech and Stanford, are still largely populated by white students, with Black or Hispanic students together comprising less than 25 percent of the student body.
The real admissions bias that needs to be addressed is the issue of familial ties. According to a Sept. 1 article from MarketWatch, nearly 30 percent of Harvard’s incoming class of 2021 has at least one family member who attended the school. According to the article, “among a group of similarly distinguished applicants, the daughters and sons of Harvard College alumni/ae may receive an additional look.” Taking this into account, the university is continuing a trend of accepting wealthy, advantaged students who do not truly represent the diversity of the nation. Though Harvard and other elite schools are known to offer generous financial aid packages, only a small number of students are actually able to take advantage of such. The lack of students from low-income families further contributes to the diversity problem at Harvard. According to Harvard’s financial aid office, financial aid is expanded to students whose families earn less than $80,000 a year while admission may be free for families earning less than $60,000. Per the earlier Crimson article, families of athletes earning $80,000 per year or less comprise 17.5 percent of the class of 2021, families of legacy students earning less than $80,000 per year make up 4.3 percent, and first-generation students comprise 12.8 percent. Harvard and other elite schools are only perpetuating an elitist cycle that caters toward wealthy and privileged students.
What the Trump administration considers discrimination against white applicants is actually a useful means to give underrepresented students the chance to obtain beneficial opportunities. Affirmative action is a necessity, and to believe otherwise is to ignore the true injustice of college admissions.
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this article incorrectly spelled Caltech.