A Look at Affirmative Action

An unbiased, state-the-facts perspective into the debate affecting students across the nation

Shaan Sakraney

Affirmative action, America’s way of trying to address systemic inequalities, has long been debated as to its implications and efficacy as a system for promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion in workplaces and educational environments. Due to the controversial nature of this issue, many people have developed differing perspectives on whether or not affirmative action is a fair and effective policy. 

To start, someone who supports affirmative action would argue that affirmative action is a necessary counter to the inequity faced by historically marginalized groups. Certainly, people benefit from having a variety of perspectives which come from having people with diverse backgrounds. Affirmative action ensures that people from unique backgrounds are given equal opportunities to pursue educational and employment opportunities in spite of whatever systemic barriers may be in place. Creating more opportunities for these disadvantaged groups provides trickle down effects as well. As these groups gain more opportunities, they additionally have more potential to have upward mobility in terms of socioeconomic status. On average, someone who graduated college can make $32,000 more per year than someone with a high school diploma. In addition, getting acceptance into prestigious, name-brand institutions for colleges allows for better access to well paying jobs, as top employers tend to build better relationships with top schools. With affirmative action in colleges, underrepresented minorities are given more opportunities to access potentially life-changing opportunities to further accelerate their upwards progression. 

While this argument is certainly very strong, there are some potential weaknesses to this implementation of affirmative action. To start, this argument focuses merely on college and beyond, instead of trying to focus on attacking the root of the problem. Many of the groups that affirmative action tries to help are located in underfunded school districts, so they struggle to get the same level of education that they have to compete against in the college admissions process. However, if instead there was better funding in public schools from an early age, starting in elementary, middle, and high school, some of these disparities would certainly decrease. 

On the other hand, people against affirmative action may argue that affirmative action decreases focus on merit, instead focusing on race instead. This position bases itself off of statistics regarding the outreach done by prestigious schools, like Harvard. In 2018, a Harvard Dean of Admissions testified that Harvard had different SAT baseline scores that determined whether or not prospective students would see promotional material from Harvard. Harvard says that for African-American, Native American and Hispanic high schoolers, they require a SAT composite score of around 1100, a very mid range score. However, for Asian-American students, they only send their promotional materials should their scores be more than 250 points above the other students, with a minimum score of 1350 for Asian-American women, and 1380 for Asian-American men. This implies a moderately significant disparity in standards expected for different races, which is indicative of racial bias taking precedence over one’s innate skill or qualifications for the position. 

However, this argument has its weaknesses as well. For instance, the aforementioned SAT benchmarks were only for reaching out to applicants, and did not affect the admissions of those groups. Additionally, other statistics can be used to prove that in fact, colleges still had a focus on merit, and by some standards, kept a balanced view of both race and merit. For example, in 2018, Asian Americans made up 5.8% of the US population, but they were 22.2% of Harvard’s class of 2021. 

All in all, affirmative action is a nuanced, complex issue with multiple potential answers. One can support an argument that affirmative action is a necessary measure, while other people can just as easily argue that affirmative action is an imperfect solution to the problem it attempts to address. Since so many people can have all of these different perspectives, it is important to expose ourselves to all of these different perspectives to learn from them, allowing for more open and deeper discussions amongst Sage Hill’s Community.