Affirmative action is back in the news, and so is the debate over whether universities should consider an applicant’s race when deciding who gets in. Harvard is being sued for that very reason–the plaintiffs essentially argue that Harvard’s affirmative action policies discriminate against Asian Americans in an effort to limit their numbers in order to ensure a racial diverse campus.

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What is affirmative action?

When it comes to colleges and universities, “affirmative action” refers to policies where race and sex are considered in the application process. They’re not the only things colleges look at; they’re still looking at your grades, SAT scores, extracurricular activities, but they also take into account your race and gender in an effort to help ensure women and minorities are getting equal access to higher education.

What are the main arguments for affirmative action?

Many people in favor of affirmative action say that because of historical and institutional sexism and racism, it is necessary to make sure that women and minorities with good academic standing receive equal access to college. Another argument in favor of affirmative action is that racially diverse campuses and universities benefit all students. They are places where you learn to interact with and respect people who are different from you, skills that are essential to living and working in a diverse world.

What are the main arguments against affirmative action?

Many people that oppose affirmative action believe it’s not fair. They argue that these policies hurt whites and Asian-Americans if “less qualified” minority students are admitted over them. Some argue these policies end up hurting race relations if people assume the only reason a student is at a school is because of their race, even if they would have gotten in without affirmative action. Many opponents believe that college admissions should be based on merit alone, and not on things that you can’t change– like race. Others argue that a more fair way to help those that are at a disadvantage would be to consider parental income or class, instead of race– that way admissions policies don’t hurt poor whites and Asian-Americans.

SOURCES/ ADDITIONAL READINGS:
National Conference of State Legislature: Affirmative Action Overview
ProCon.org: Does the US Need Affirmative Action?

ACLU: Who Supports Affirmative Action?
New York Times: How Minorities Have Faired In States With Affirmative Action Bans

National Women’s Law Center: Affirmative Action and What it Means for Women

National Bureau of Economic Research

Pew Research Group: Public Strongly Backs Affirmative Action Programs on Campus

Gallop Poll: Oppose Colleges Considering Race Admissions
New York Times: Even With Affirmative Action, Blacks and Hispanics are More Underrepresented at Top Colleges Than 35 Years Ago

Teen Vogue: What you need to know about race and college admissions

Brookings Institute: Black Students at Top Colleges Exceptions not the Rule

Is Affirmative Action Fair? 17 December,2018Lauren Farrar

Author

Lauren Farrar

Lauren has a background in biology, education, and filmmaking. She has had the privilege to work on a diverse array of educational endeavors and is currently a producer for KQED Learning's YouTube series Above the Noise. Lauren's career has taken her to the deepest parts of the ocean to film deep sea hydrothermal vents for classroom webcasts, into the pool to film synchronized swimmers to teach about the pH scale, and on roller coasters to create a video about activation energy. And, she’s done it all for the sake of education. Lauren loves communicating science! Follow her on twitter @LFarrarAtWork

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