Affirmative Action Complications

Natasha Scott, a Maryland high school senior filling out university applications, is facing a pretty interesting dilemma, and one less common than would might assume.  Scott is one of many multiracial high school seniors currently wondering how to most accurately, or most beneficially, classify themselves ethnically.

Scott has one Asian-American parent and one African-American parent, placing her in a relatively unique position.  Scott laments on the potential consequences of committing to one race classification or another:

“I just realized that my race is something I have to think about,” she wrote, describing herself as having an Asian mother and a black father. “It pains me to say this, but putting down black might help my admissions chances and putting down Asian might hurt it.”

This New York Times article and Natasha Scott’s situation effectively sheds light on the shortcomings of affirmative action policies.  Affirmative action, a political mindset that comes from a legitimate and helpful desire for fairness and racial/ethnic equality, appears to have come full-circle.  The policies designed to allow those racial and ethnic minorities that were unfairly discriminated against are now working to discriminate against other minorities.  What makes one minority more in need of legitimate preferential treatment than another?

Times columnists Susan Saulny and Jacques Steinberg, who put together this article highlighting Scott’s dilemma, rightly point out the problem these multiracial students might pose to admissions officials seeking to fill ethnic quotas while keeping cost in mind.

Some scholars worry that the growth in multiracial applicants could further erode the original intent of affirmative action, which is to help disadvantaged minorities. For example, families with one black parent and one white parent are on average more affluent than families with two black parents. When choosing between two such applicants, some universities might lean toward the multiracial student because he will need less financial aid while still counting toward affirmative-action goals.

In the era of vicious budget slashing, admissions departments will understandably be forced to keep costs to a minimum while affirmative action proponents won’t grow any quieter.  The ultimate consequence of this combination could what Saulny and Steinberg warn of.

The goal of affirmative action should be to, as effectively as possible, equalize college admissions systems without disadvantaging any social or ethnic group.

“How do we include multiracials in our view of an egalitarian society and not do it in a way that disadvantages other groups?” said Ulli K. Ryder, visiting scholar at the Center for the Study of Race and Ethnicity in America at Brown University.

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4 Responses to Affirmative Action Complications

  1. Paradigm says:

    I have to say the whole idea of affirmative action is wrong on so many levels.

    It’s wrong because those favored will provide bad service as professionals,
    It’s wrong because many of them will fail (since SAT scores correlate to learning ability)
    It’s wrong because it’s unfair to those more talented, wrong because it’s a waste of tax-payer’s money,
    It’s wrong because other nations that don’t do this will easier outcompete you
    It’s wrong because it will foster a spirit of corruption when people see that talent and hard work may not always work and that they can use shortcuts to success.

    • Cody Deitz says:

      I’ll agree with you that it’s definitely murky territory and has the potential to encourage a sort of reverse-discrimination. When you say “it’s wrong because those favored will provide bad service as professionals,” I’m not inclined to agree. Because the conditions upon which they were allowed entrance into a previously discriminatory university are not entirely based on merit does NOT mean they will not succeed. Neither does it mean they WILL succeed.

      There was definitely a need for reform when it came to American universities. Many schools had painfully racist and discriminatory admissions policies. We certainly had to open admissions to all. The point where it becomes a problem is when students are being admitted solely because of their racial or ethnic minority status, without due consideration of their achievements. In that case, it doesn’t feel much different than the previously institutionalized white privilege.

      There were plenty of cases where minority students that were admitted to high-level universities because of affirmative action actually failed because they were not academically prepared. In these cases, affirmative action did a terrible disservice to those students. If you’re interested in affirmative action and it’s role in the higher education system, I suggest you read Richard Rodriguez’ novel -Hunger of Memory-. It’s interesting to hear an argument against affirmative action from the point of view of a minority scholarship student. As you can imagine, he views run counter to many other Chicano professors.

  2. Paradigm says:

    They might succeed, but let’s put it this way: would you like your doctor to be someone with an IQ of 130 or a minority doctor with 105? My doctor is really smart, she probably has something like 150-170. And from what the nurses say everybody wants her. And we don’t have AA here in Sweden, they have all been admitted on equal terms.

    • Cody Deitz says:

      I understand what you’re saying but in the United States, AA was instated to create the kind of quality you’re talking about: “admitted on equal turns.” Who knows how many brilliant minds were never heard because they belonged to a person with black or brown skin. There’s was a reason for it, and a good one I think, but the circumstances have changed a lot in the last 30-40 years. Because of the incredible amount of competition for even State University admissions, financial aid funds, and other academic resources, the racial element that’s implicit in AA becomes increasingly problematic.

      It seems the point of AA is defeated when even one racial or ethnic group is being disadvantaged, whether that group be Anglo, African, or Latino.

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