The upcoming Supreme Court case Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin II has brought the debate on affirmative action back into the spotlight once again. The decision could possibly bring changes to the way UT and other public colleges in the U.S. use race as a factor in the holistic admissions process.
Critics of affirmative action say the policy is a form of reverse discrimination that gives an unfair advantage to minorities since it often lowers the bar for minorities to be accepted to prestigious state and private universities.
But, this is a strange argument to make considering minorities are still underrepresented in colleges despite the supposed advantage provided by affirmative action programs.
UT’s student body is only 4 percent black and 21 percent Hispanic, compared to the general population of Texas, which is 11 percent black and 37 percent Hispanic.
Racial backgrounds often correlate with socioeconomic differences that make a huge impact in college admissions. Important college entrance test scores, such as the SAT, scale directly with the income of a student’s family, since poorer students sometimes can’t afford expensive SAT tutoring.
Critics also say colleges should use socioeconomic status alone to help the holistic process, but history creates unique problems for minorities.
Valerie Strauss, reporter for the Washington Post, said that “black families and their children suffer from compounded and inherited disadvantages that are unique, not like those of white or immigrant families who happen to be from lower social classes.”
These disadvantages root themselves in historical injustices from slavery, government mortgages only being offered to white people during the 20th century and strict drug laws from the 1980s enforced disproportionately against black people up until the current day.
The result is a palpably unequal society where black children are three times more likely to be living under the poverty line than their white counterparts. They also face problems unique to their race such as disproportionate levels of police brutality. Recent protests for racial reform in many colleges across the country show that these problems are still real and pervasive for many students.
All of these factors combined lead to minorities often having a distinct disadvantage in the college admissions process before they even start school. Proponents of a so-called “meritocratic” process for admitting students are really just pushing a system where people of color are even more underrepresented in colleges than they are today.
Removing affirmative action could lead to a situation like that of Caltech, whose student body is only 1 percent black with no affirmative action policy in place.
Student Government President Xavier Rotnofsky said in a recent amicus curiae brief filed for UT-Austin that student body diversity provides tangible benefits for the general student body.
“Students benefit from a diverse student body because students learn from each other from different backgrounds,” Rotnofsky said. “[Since] the case could bar UT from using race in its holistic admissions process, it could hurt that experience on campus.”
Diversity only happens naturally when the society it draws from is entirely equal. Until this day arrives, affirmative action programs are absolutely necessary to maintain the diversity of universities, provide minorities a ladder to raise their socioeconomic status and increase the quality of the students’ experiences.
Govil is a computer science freshman from Austin. Follow Govil on Twitter @ashvio.