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Long Live Affirmative Action

By James S. Bikales

Generally, as an Editorial Board, we rarely have to write obituaries, except for perhaps when we lament the loss of campus experiences such as shopping week. We hope this remains true for affirmative action.

On Tuesday, Jan. 25, following news reports on Monday that the Supreme Court has decided to hear two cases challenging affirmative action as an admissions policy at Harvard and the University of North Carolina, University President Lawrence S. Bacow issued a message in defense of affirmative action in the admissions process, emphasizing the importance of diversity to our campus communities and education. Under the context of a binary lawsuit, we share President Bacow’s concerns for the endangerment and potential extinction of affirmative action. Still, we are troubled by the binaries that are being presented in the ongoing debate surrounding affirmative action and diversity in college admissions.

We are extremely troubled by the rhetoric amplified by the Students for Fair Admissions in characterizing the nature of affirmative action, specifically in their choice to center Asian and Asian American applicants as victimized and robbed by applicants of other demographics. An article that SFFA reposted on their Newsroom states: “The schools want fewer Asian-Americans so they can make room for black, Latino and white applicants who are less qualified on the merits.” On paper, the dichotomy is made between Asian students and black, Latino, and white students. Given the reality and history of systemic racism in higher education that affords white applicants much fewer stakes in race-conscious admissions policies, however, we are left with an ill-formed binary that mostly pits Asians and Asian Americans against Black people and other marginalized and racialized groups. We find this extremely dangerous in its perpetuation of a more general trend of protecting the interests of the privileged at the expense of the oppressed.

In thinking about affirmative action, we must be aware of the big picture. We, as students and young adults who have gone through the college admissions process, understand that affirmative action does not end or even begin to fully address racial oppression in higher education or this country. Rather, affirmative action attempts to mitigate the symptoms of racial oppression in higher education as we look for more permanent and sustainable solutions. Striking down affirmative action does nothing to address discrimination against Asians and Asian Americans; as we have written previously, the controversy over Harvard rating Asian and Asian American applicants lower on the personality scale is the result of deep-seated racial biases and stereotypical perceptions.

In the event that affirmative action does get struck down, we still will not live in a post-racial society void of discrimination. Instead, we should invest more time and energy in other ways that can help minimize racial inequity, particularly in education: From moving away from tying school district funding to property taxes (wherein more affluent areas end up with better schools), to exploring reparations at a federal level, to increasing the number of Black instructors for better educational outcomes, there are very real policies and actions that can be taken.

At the end of the day, the goal is to increase diversity and minimize inequality. Let us be more specific: diversity is not for the sake of simply having nonwhite bodies on campus; students of color are not accessories to beautify college campuses. A genuine institutional commitment to racial justice can be achieved when the policies surrounding diversity it promotes extend beyond generating good publicity associated with inclusivity. Specifically, community members of color should be consistently treated with respect for the simple fact that they deserve to exist at these institutions, not to educate or convince others of their humanity, but for their own right to education and to better survive in a society where jobs increasingly require college degrees.

We think Harvard has a lot to work on: It can begin by addressing the possible remains of enslaved people found in Harvard Museums and better supporting faculty and students of color once they enter this institution. Also, as the University is dealing with the threat to race-based affirmative action posed by the Supreme Court, it should also notice and reckon with how special consideration and backdoors for the ultra wealthy and legacy students, such as the Z-List, remain securely in place — because we do.

This staff editorial solely represents the majority view of The Crimson Editorial Board. It is the product of discussions at regular Editorial Board meetings. In order to ensure the impartiality of our journalism, Crimson editors who choose to opine and vote at these meetings are not involved in the reporting of articles on similar topics.

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