Are college admissions racist?

Irie Sentner, Editor

The lawsuit brought against Harvard University by Students For Fair Admissions is the latest incident in the ever-inflammatory narrative of college admissions and affirmative action. The organization claims that Harvard’s admission policies discriminate against Asian Americans and suggests that entry standards are stacked against Asians in the name of ethnic diversity. As a result of court litigation, many of Harvard’s most prized admissions secrets were unearthed, revealing a dark trend within the admissions office that grants Asian applicants much lower personality scores than other students. A research analysis conducted by the plaintiffs on 160,000 applications found that a male Asian American with a 25% chance of admission would have a 35% chance if he were white, 75% chance if he were Hispanic, and a 95% chance if he were black.

The argument for affirmative action is simple: admissions standards should be modified to fit the opportunity that an applicant has been granted during their high school career. In theory, this policy makes sense; if it wasn’t the case, elite universities would be overflowing with ultra-wealthy students from affluent private high schools with sky-high endowments and resources that would make it impossible for anyone else to compete. These policies pertain especially to historically underrepresented groups like women and minorities, helping provide balance to the implicit societal discriminations that they may face.

When utilized correctly, affirmative action levels the playing field, promotes diversity, and grants individuals many opportunities that may have been previously unattainable. However, an issue arises when one group’s success comes at the expense of another. It is true that admissions standards should be different for a student in San Perlita, Texas than for one in Scarsdale, New York, but this is no excuse for discrimination against a certain race — especially the type perpetrated by Harvard that attacks Asian American students.

That being said, it is also dangerous to blame affirmative action for these injustices and push for race-blind admissions. Race is an important factor in determining academic achievement, not because some races are more intelligent, but because marginalized groups have faced educational inequity that make it difficult to stand up against white, Asian, and most notably, high income competitors. Despite the widespread use of affirmative action, most universities still have admissions systems (like legacy preference) that favores white applicants.
To dismantle affirmative action is to essentially discard all of the work that has been done to aid in the educational equality of minorities. Race blind admissions decrease university diversity and perpetuate the problems that students of color and low income already face on a daily basis. Instead, the focus must be shifted to the people inside of the admissions room and the alumni who conduct interviews. Universities and colleges should increase their faculty diversity training and begin to employ admissions officers from a broader range of cultural backgrounds. In a time when our society is being forced to inspect our unspoken biases and view their consequences, universities should be a refuge where curiosity and erudite overpower all other factors. As places that represent the pinnacle of intellectual achievement, they still have a lot to learn.