By Kathryn Huth
Affirmative action has been widely employed in United States college admission policies and has presented a notable challenge for the United States Supreme Court throughout the years. Emerging as a response to rectify lost opportunities following the era of segregation, affirmative action has evolved into an entity that generates inequality and perpetuates racial stereotypes instead of addressing oppression.
In an analysis of 123 colleges, the Pew Research Center discovered that 74% incorporated race and ethnicity as a factor in their admissions procedures. Institutions assert that considering race in the admissions process is essential to achieving diversity within their student bodies. While studies have demonstrated that diverse perspectives and backgrounds facilitate more enriching discussions in classrooms, the Supreme Court, on June 29th, invalidated this practice in the Students for Fair Admissions v. Harvard College case. The justices recognized the historical impact of slavery, which led to programs aimed at reducing racial discrimination. Nevertheless, they also acknowledged that the Fourteenth Amendment unequivocally mandates the elimination of all forms of racial discrimination by government entities to ensure unbiased treatment of citizens.
For racial categorization to be deemed justifiable by the government, the Court employs the legal standard of strict scrutiny to assess the legitimacy of such classifications. In prior Supreme Court decisions, affirmative action withstood strict scrutiny due to its compelling interests in fostering diverse perspectives among students. However, in the Grutter v. Bollinger case, the Court asserted that all uses of race in admissions systems must ultimately cease. The connection to previous “compelling interests” doesn’t invalidate the fact that affirmative action programs potentially violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, which demands equal and impartial application of the law to all citizens.
The assertion that incorporating race into admissions enhances diverse viewpoints in student bodies can perpetuate a demeaning outlook on racial groups, which is unacceptable. This past summer, we witnessed affirmative action in Harvard and UNC’s admissions processes fail the rigorous test of strict scrutiny due to flawed arguments in their defense. The argument supporting affirmative action doesn’t adequately explain how inclusion of students from diverse racial backgrounds genuinely fosters diverse thought on campuses. While it might hold true that admitting a mixed class from various diasporas could lead to diversity due to distinct cultural perspectives, this doesn’t apply to United States universities, as they predominantly draw students from a country with shared national and cultural attributes rather than solely from diverse regions globally. This doesn’t negate the existence of diversity in the U.S. but highlights the flawed use of race to guarantee a unique perspective within a unified nation.
Considering race in admissions, even for creating a comprehensive student portrait, doesn’t guarantee significant cultural or personal disparities, and the assumption that it does relies on stereotypes to generalize individuals. As stated in JUSTIA’s summary of the SFFA v. Harvard case, “The question of whether a particular mix of minority students produces… [diversity] is standardless. The systems fail to articulate a meaningful connection between the means they employ and those goals; they use racial categories that are overbroad, arbitrary or undefined, or underinclusive.” Such policies in potentially 74% of American universities lack coherence and, in a society that has distanced itself from racial discrimination, have no place and must be eradicated for perpetuating offensive stereotypes.
Furthermore, despite suggestions from media outlets and politicians, eliminating affirmative action policies from U.S. colleges would align with American sentiment. According to a Pew Research Center poll, Americans were nearly three times more likely to strongly disagree with considering race in college admissions (29%) compared to those who approved of the practice (11%). Among Black Americans polled, 35% reported personal disadvantages resulting from diversity-increasing efforts, while 20% reported benefiting and 11% experienced both advantages and disadvantages. These findings underscore the consequences of supporting detrimental policies for faulty, ideological reasons and accentuates the need to abolish them.
As the landmark Regents of Univ. of California v. Bakke case asserted, “[t]he guarantee of equal protection cannot mean one thing when applied to one individual and something else when applied to a person of another color.” To honor and uphold the Fourteenth Amendment, it is in the interest of all potential college students and society at large to disband and discard affirmative action programs.