Affirmative action is good for white students, too

On Oct. 8, the Minnesota Daily Editorial Board, in their editorial “Revisiting Affirmative Action,” noted that the Supreme Court would be revisiting affirmative action in university admissions this term. While it was hard to pin down what the editorial’s final conclusion was, it should be clear that affirmative action is incredibly important and valuable to universities — yes, even for white kids.

What the Supreme Court will be looking at specifically is the consideration of race in admissions with the goal of promoting a diverse learning environment on campus. Part of the value of a higher education is learning from those who have had different experiences than you: If admission strictly based on test scores resulted in an all — or nearly all —white student body, it would not just hurt those excluded from attending, it would also rob those who did manage to get in of a crucial part of their education. Many of these policies use race as one factor of many that contributes to a campus’ diversity, including socioeconomic class, first-generation status, whether the student is the child of a single parent and others.

Furthermore, if a university did not choose to have an affirmative action policy, it would still be considering race in admissions, just without admitting it. Racial disparities in education start at a very young age — household income, neighborhood conditions and stability of the home affect how well students are able to learn from the get-go. White students on average tend to have an advantage over other students in these categories for a variety of reasons that have nothing to do with a student’s innate ability.

In other words, GPA and exam scores are not race-neutral evaluators of merit. Racial disparities in education and society undeniably factor into those numbers. This is becoming even truer with the rise of the test-prep industry. Increasingly, students who can afford the time and money to prepare for exams do better on them, while those who can’t afford it do worse by comparison.

Universities need the freedom to consider race and other factors in admissions in order to create a diverse student body that will benefit all its students. Failing to do so will rob its students of a fundamental part of their education.