In defense of Affirmative Action

Anumita Jain, Managing Web Editor

In 1961, former President John F. Kennedy issued Executive Order 10925, a part of which encouraged government contractors to “take affirmative action to ensure that applicants are employed, and employees are treated during employment, without regard to their race, creed, color, or national origin.” The purpose of this executive order was to offer a level playing field to job and college applicants who were historically discriminated against and take a step towards bridging the achievement gap.

His executive order ended up fulfilling its intended purpose. The fact that people today are arguing against affirmative action shows that there are in fact minorities who have been historically discriminated against who find themselves at a socioeconomic advantage today. Although it’s not a lack of intelligence or motivation that would’ve hindered them from this success in the absence of affirmative action — it’s America’s undeniable racism that would’ve done that job — affirmative action played a crucial role in the success of these Americans. In short, it worked.

The idea that the original form of affirmative action is not applicable today is undeniable. However, it is also undeniable that the concept of affirmative action is necessary. While back in the early ‘60s the main factor hindering applicants from getting into the college of their choice was race, this factor has changed to income today, and affirmative action should definitely be amended to focus on socioeconomic status rather than race (only around 3 percent of the student body at the country’s most selective colleges comprises of students from the lowest socioeconomic quartile while a staggering 72 percent comes from the top). But regardless of which aspect it focuses on, it’s still affirmative action — it’s still action being taken to ensure a level playing field for all applicants.

A quick defense of racial affirmative action: underrepresented minorities are still inherently disadvantaged in the college admissions process. While I in no way mean to make a blanket statement correlating income to race, it is definitely true that America’s implicit racism often hinders underrepresented minorities from taking big strides up the socioeconomic ladder. The only method by which one can climb the socioeconomic ladder in this case is a quality education (the average starting salary for a graduate of a highly selective school is around $10,000 greater than that of a graduate of a less prestigious university).

Another reason racial affirmative action (in addition to class-based affirmative action, of course) is important is because of representation — when someone who comes from a family that doesn’t see many people going on to pursue higher education, it is important that they see someone that they can identify with pursuing higher education in order to understand that higher education is an option (and a very advantageous option). In order for them to see this representation, there has to be some sort of race-based affirmative action to introduce the idea of underrepresented minorities at top universities.

A final note: underrepresented minorities still make up a smaller portion of the population of the nation’s top colleges than of the college-aged population of the country.