The future of affirmative action

Disadvantaged students deserve more opportunities.

by Luis Ruuska

The U.S. Supreme Court recently upheld Michigan’s ban on affirmative action. In a 6-2 decision, the court did not dispute the constitutionality of affirmative action but rather upheld the right of voters to have a say in whether states can consider race in public college admissions.

From the time that I learned what affirmative action is, I’ve had a troubled relationship with it. Growing up, I had the privilege of belonging to a middle-class family and of living in predominantly white suburban neighborhoods.

Because of my upbringing, my experience as a minority has been fundamentally different than what I know many others have had to endure growing up.

However, like many other minorities, I have developed a hyper-awareness about the perceived effects of affirmative action on my life, though what people perceive is not always the reality.

I know that I’m not alone in these feelings either.

Take, for instance, Long Island student Kwasi Enin, who was recently accepted to all eight Ivy League universities.

Enin’s SAT scores placed him in the 99th percentile in the country. He has taken 11 Advanced Placement courses throughout high school and has an impressive resume of volunteering and extracurricular activities.

Despite Enin’s well-deserved and extraordinary achievement, many saw fit to discredit Enin, saying his feat was only possible because he is a first-generation American and black.

The unfortunate truth is that this is not an isolated incident. In America, anytime a person of color or a socioeconomically disadvantaged person creates their own success, the very worst of their detractors argue that it’s never due to their skills, intelligence or merit; it’s due to their race and racial preference.

Banning affirmative action would mean a country where people can no longer mask their bigotry by pulling the race card.

But I also know this is a selfish thing to desire.

While I suspect that affirmative action hasn’t had a major impact on my life, I know that it has helped others immensely and transformed their lives by giving them opportunities to succeed that they wouldn’t normally have.

Ethically and morally, I could never vote to take away the opportunities affirmative action affords some of this country’s most disadvantaged students.

However, if we continue to synonymize “disadvantaged” with “race,” critics will always use affirmative action as vitriolic ammunition and we will never be able to make progress toward true equality in higher education.

This is why many are suggesting that the future of affirmative action will involve admissions that don’t consider race, but socioeconomic status instead.

I think that this is the best — and only — path for affirmative action going
forward.

Studies have suggested that students from high-income backgrounds earn bachelor’s degrees at six times the rate that students of
low-income backgrounds do.

Although affirmative action based on race may gradually be waned out in the coming years, we cannot afford to let our most disadvantaged students fall through the cracks.

Though many still do not view higher education as a fundamental right, we as a nation are better off when everyone has an opportunity to access it.