From a privileged perspective, it is often difficult to understand what justifies affirmative action. How can colleges deny deserving students admission, yet admit those who underperform in comparison?
Unfortunately, the very conception of "performance" is often framed by privilege. Standardized-test scores, grade-point-averages, and extracurricular activities are typically what determine admittance. But how do colleges evaluate candidates beyond that?
It is argued that the essay is the opportunity to voice yourself, justify why you performed poorly in school, didn’t receive a stellar ACT score, and talk about the experiences that shaped you. But how much does an essay really influence acceptance? Several schools have minimum threshold GPAs and standardized-test scores that determine whether or not an application is even read.
There really isn’t a fair playing field for individuals who live in poorer school districts, receive poorer education in comparison to their "qualified" competitors, are unable to buy test-prep books, or have to work after school instead of staying after for extracurricular activities.
There really isn’t a fair playing field for a first-generation student in the United States whose parents haven’t gone to school in the U.S. or received higher education.
There really isn’t a fair playing field for minority students who are flanked with cultural assimilation, and who must overcome racial prejudice and battles with identity on a daily basis.
One of the greatest dilemmas that confronts affirmative-action proponents is whether or not leveling the playing field provides tangible benefits. Many opponents of it argue that those who benefit from affirmative action actually end up not doing as well, being fired from work, or unable to keep up with the rigor of the school. However, these arguments are once again framed in a privileged mindset.
It is asinine to assume that acceptance into a program implies that individuals can unfetter their pasts and immediately transition into a new lifestyle. A common misconception is that affirmative action directly assists individuals. Rather, it is a tool that equalizes the playing field, eliminates barriers, and creates a world where opportunity is equally accessible.
While the consequences of banning affirmative action cannot be readily quantifiable, negative impacts on college campuses are still discernible. Let’s take the University of Michigan as an example. Since the implementation of Proposal 2, which is legislation that bans “the use of affirmative action programs that give preferential treatment” in the state of Michigan, diversity at the university has plummeted. And due to the correlation between diversity and campus climate, there is a visible deterioration in the campus climate.
When diversity inclusion is hindered, and when the state structurally makes it okay keep up barriers and maintain the achievement gap fueled by years of discrimination in this country, how can individuals be expected to be inclusive and understanding of others’ identities and backgrounds? How can a student be expected to be empathetic and understanding of another person’s experiences when the state doesn’t support that itself? How can a student be expected to get along with another person and deal with group dynamics when he or she isn’t in an environment that supports such behavior?
When the state does not recognize the experiences of disadvantaged individuals, it sets a precedent for students on campus to do the same. It enables and perpetuates the fallacy that all students have equal opportunities, and that disadvantage and discrimination are illusory concepts.
Higher education is critical in shaping one’s perspectives about the world. It is the opportunity to immerse oneself in a diverse culture and learn the realities of life. Affirmative action combats the injustices deeply entrenched in education and the workplace. Without it, we lose understanding and promote exclusion. We foster marginalization and foment the gap that society has already created for so many individuals for so many generations.