From employment to education, affirmative action policies are designed to improve opportunities for groups that have historically been excluded in American society.
Controversy has long surrounded these policies, and the opposition has been staunchly vocal about the constitutionality, or lack thereof, of these programs.
According to The New York Times, there is an idea that affirmative action “might harm its intended beneficiaries.”
The Times went on to note that such concerns stem as early as the 1960s, “when affirmative action, a phrase introduced by the Kennedy administration, began to take hold as government and corporate policy.”
Naysayers believe the programs lead to reverse discrimination, eliminate incentives for better performance and leave students ill-equipped to handle schools to which they’ve been accepted.
There is little evidence supporting such claims, which seem to be, on first glance, grounded in a belittling assumption — that those individuals benefitting from affirmative action policies are simply not up to par to their potential colleagues or classmates who did not “need” affirmative action.
As an Asian-American student, I understand the importance of a meritocracy. It’s an underlying principle of the American dream. Growing up, I was taught that the hardest workers among us deserved the most rewards and I still believe that, to an extent.
Still, I can’t discount the importance of diversity in my life, not just in school and not just regarding race.
During my time at ASU, I had a teacher tell the class to always be actively thinking about diversifying our field of coverage. As a journalist, this is important for a number of reasons: Inadequate coverage of certain issues can lead to widespread and inaccurate assumptions that are taken by many to be unassailable fact.
According to a CivilRights.org report, The Washington Post, Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation and Harvard University published a survey in 2001 that indicates “misperceptions drive much of the opposition to affirmative action. Large numbers of white Americans incorrectly believe that African Americans are as well off as whites in terms of their jobs, incomes, schooling and health care.”
These perceptions are inaccurate, and the reason why affirmative action can help bridge the divide of racial and economic disparity.
Affirmative action policies can spark a conversation on the diverse makeup of our schools and workforces, but not just by race. In fact, according to author and educator Tim Wise, white women are the primary beneficiaries of affirmative action policies and that more than 6 million women, most of them white, “simply wouldn’t have the jobs they have today, but for the inroads made by affirmative action.”
In 2003, the Supreme Court upheld the University of Michigan Law School’s affirmative action admissions plan, saying that “student body diversity is a compelling state interest that can justify the use of race in university admissions.”
Of the decision, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor said, “We expect that 25 years from now, the use of racial preferences will no longer be necessary to further the interest approved today.”
Justice O’Connor was right at the time of the decision, and she still is today, but race should not be categorically discarded as a factor in admissions or employment policies. To ignore race in all situations is to ignore historical, social and economic context to an egregious degree.
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