The Merits of Affirmative Action

Recently at the University of Texas at Austin, the school’s stance on affirmative action was scrutinized. Students hosted a bake sale in which they varied the price of their baked goods based on the buyer’s race and gender. For example, a cookie would be free for a Native American, but $1.50 for an Asian male. The students protested affirmative action by comparing it to a system in which a person’s race would vary the price of a baked good.

These cheaper prices, however, were an oversimplification and gross misinterpretation of affirmative action. The real objective of Affirmative Action is to level the playing field so that the underrepresented and disadvantaged can have equal opportunities. It does not mean that a Native American student will automatically get into college like the bake sale suggested. Affirmative action is meant to simply take race into account along with the countless other variables when looking at the overall holistic view of an applicant.

The idea of affirmative action reminds me of a short comic that highlights the difference between equality and equity. Equality was symbolized as three people of very different heights are each given one box to use to see over a tall fence. Equity was shown as the shortest person receiving two boxes to see over the fence and the tallest person receiving none. Although equality may be seen as more ‘fair,’ it can only work if the three people were the same height and, since this is not the case, it still leaves people disadvantaged. The second scene illustrates what affirmative action is meant to do: ensure that people have access to the same opportunities.

As an Asian-American, I’ve found that the debate about affirmative action becomes more complicated after each school year. I’ve heard my parents condemn affirmative action, and I’ve seen the parents of my Asian-American peers attend numerous protests against affirmative action, all in the name of their children. They say that affirmative action harms Asian-Americans, making it much more difficult for us to get into colleges.

The premise of this argument is that the system of getting into colleges is rigged against me and all other Asian-Americans. The competition between Asian students in the college admission process has drastically increased. So much so that, Asian-Americans need an average of 140 points more on the old SAT than their white counterparts to be accepted at private universities. Since we are considered the “model minority,” we are no longer seen as disadvantaged, and thus supposedly do not receive the benefits of affirmative action that other minorities do.

These are legitimate worries in the Asian-American community, and it creates stress and competition between students to try and stand out more in order to beat the college application process. We work incredibly hard while comparing our credentials to each other, and it often feels like we’re trying to one-up each other to claim the few increasingly competitive spots allotted for Asian-Americans in schools.

Despite this, I still see the merits of affirmative action. I have learned so much and heard so many different viewpoints and opinions in the short time I’ve been at Andover. I’ve learned that Affirmative action is a double-edged sword that must be wielded carefully. We cannot allow race to become the defining factor in admissions, yet it must be taken account into the overall picture of a student. Race is an important part of a student’s identity, and it shouldn’t be ignored nor hidden in the admissions process.

Yet I do believe that more factors of identity should be taken into account during the affirmative action process to ensure a more wholistically diverse community – not solely a student’s race, but their gender, socio-economic background, geographic origin, and more.

While there is no single solution to such a complicated and nuanced issue, both sides of the affirmative action debate must work together in order to find a balance that benefits all students. A compromise must be found; the future of our nation and its students depends on it.