Just last year, the Supreme Court ruled against University of Texas reject, Abigail Fisher, when she suggested the university’s policy of affirmative action blocked her admittance to the school simply because she is white and not at all because of her less-than-impressive grades or achievements in her prior education. The case was seen as a major victory for proponents of affirmative action across the U.S. and more or less set the precedent that affirmative action was here to stay, reinforced by legal victories in other states.
Despite its imperfections and nuance, I, too, had thought of affirmative action as a resolved issue to be packed away with shared water fountains and equal-opportunity lunch counters. However, as President Donald Trump continues to wage his proxy war on civil rights, I was admittedly naïve in my surprise upon reading that the Department of Justice has now decided to investigate and potentially sue colleges for race-based discrimination against white people in their admissions process.
The latest in a series of political jabs Trump is using to fluff his image after the crushing failures to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, targeting affirmative action is an uninspired threat that only stands to serve Trump’s ego while making little difference in the landscape of U.S. higher education.
Affirmative action is a flexible policy based on the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that allows institutions to address discrimination proactively by taking extra steps to recruit and accept applicants from marginalized groups. Opponents to such initiatives suggest that acknowledging race at all in the application process is racist in and of itself and race should be left out altogether in the acceptance criteria.
However, this would do nothing to address the systems of oppression that many students of color and women face far prior to the application process—issues that affirmative action is specifically meant to address. Basing acceptance solely on test scores and merit ignores the reality that many predominantly black and Hispanic schools treat higher education as an afterthought and do little to prepare students for tests such as the SAT that are already historically weighted against them.
In an article published by the Atlantic, UCLA law professor, Richard Sander, leverages an unfortunately common argument that minority students cannot compete on the level of the schools that accept them on the basis of affirmative action. A sentiment echoed by the late Supreme Court Justice Scalia who, after the notorious Abigail Fisher case brought such arguments back to the forefront, suggested that, “it does not benefit African-Americans to get them into the University of Texas, where they do not do well, as opposed to having them go to a less-advanced school, a slower-track school where they do well…”
Suggesting that portions of a student population are inherently more likely to fail because of their race and should seek admittance to “less-advanced” schools is not only blatant racism, but also a point that reveals a consistent undertone of the arguments against affirmative action.
Opponents to affirmative action are rarely concerned that even schools with the strongest and most direct affirmative action policies, such as Columbia University in New York, are still overwhelmingly white in both student and faculty populations. They seldom address the fact that affirmative action policies do nothing to override policies that allow applicants special attention based on relationship to alumni, athletic prowess or economic background.
While so eager to reject the notion that discrimination in the U.S. is a pervasive system that needs to be actively worked against, opponents to affirmative action reveal a suppressed desire maintain systems of oppression. The fact of the matter is that affirmative action does very little to hurt the white population, actually helping white women the most, and is a small but necessary step to help marginalized students get a foot in the door.
If affirmative action is repealed, students and higher education will suffer and the only victor left will be the underqualified masses of white supremacists who didn’t want to go to school with the blacks.
– Tafari Robertson is a public relations senior