Color-Blind College Admissions: A Regression
As a tour guide for prospective Packer students, the majority of questions I receive from parents surround college and how Packer prepares students for the application process. I am always eager to share the support that students receive, ranging from our three dedicated college counselors to the variety of mandatory information evenings. I describe the network of alumni which Packer has created, and the many leaflets, contact pages, and tutor recommendations which are given out to us once we reach junior year.
Interested parents are always somewhat surprised to hear of the tremendous assistance offered, and although never explicitly said, much of this surprise must come from how I, and many of my peers, speak about these assets in such a casual manner. I can definitely say that up until learning more about policies such as Affirmative Action, and its necessity especially for students of color, I had taken the resources that Packer offers us for granted, often allowing myself to sidestep thinking of them as a privilege.
Affirmative Action is a result of the 1960’s civil rights movement in the United States, and was officially signed as an Executive Order by President John F. Kennedy with the hope of improving and generating more “opportunities for historically excluded groups in American society.” (National State Legislatures) By applying Affirmative Action to education, the goal was to increase the number of people of color enrolled in colleges and universities.
However, some individuals complain, according to the National Conference of State Legislature, that the policy enforces “a form of reverse discrimination by favoring one group over another, based on racial preference rather than academic achievement.”
Many people also claim that applicants should be evaluated based entirely on their merit and success in their previous schools, rather than having race factor into the decision, in order to create a more “equal” playing field for all prospective students; in other words, college admissions should be color blind. One notable figure who agrees with this is President Donald Trump, who, in July 2018 declared a renouncement of Affirmative Action policies at colleges and universities within the United States. While this might make the admissions process more “equal,” it would do nothing to provide more equity for applicants of color.
Equity and equality are both terms which many people, myself included, often confuse one with the other, but the small difference between the two often allows for the clarification of gray areas in many discussions. Equality means that we treat all people the exact same, no matter what circumstance or situation they may be in. On the other hand, equity ensures that people are given the necessary advantages, whether that means giving one group of people more or less than another, to even the playing field for all participants. Those who argue against the policy are practically saying that those who were born at an unfair disadvantage, economically and socially, must continue to fight harder than the rest of us to receive maybe half of the opportunities given to privileged groups.
So, who gets to decide what, and how much, is needed to make amends for these disadvantages? And, perhaps more importantly, should we be working toward creating more equality or equity?
It is no secret that communities of color have been historically discriminated against in our country. According to data produced by the Federal Safety Net, 18.3% of Hispanics and 21.2% of Black Americans live in poverty, while 8.7% of White Americans fall into that category. Of course, this data does not suggest that all people of color live in poverty, but is extremely indicative of the vicious cycle that many people of color find themselves thrown into. Racial minority groups make up a majority of the families living in poverty in the U.S, and this reality is a major obstacle in their application and acceptance to college.
At Packer, college preparation is ingrained into our daily lives and schedules, beginning late sophomore year and continuing for as long as is necessary. We have expensive resources to help us prepare for all aspects of this daunting process, and as a consequence of the constant role that they play in our lives, calling these resources a ‘privilege’ sounds foreign; college preparation is simply a part of our daily lives as students at an elite private school so we sometimes forget the advantage this creates for us as a result.
It should not be up to those for whom Affirmative Action was not made to decide when it gets to end or to what extent it is applied. Those who have not dealt with centuries of systematic oppression are unable to empathize with those who have, and to strip minority groups of one of the very few educational advantages they have been given would be a huge regression in reaching equity within our society, which is what we should be aiming for.
The systems that have been put in place, such as Affirmative Action, should not be viewed as threatening or unjust to white people, or others who have some sort of notable advantage. If the argument is that college admissions should be executed equally and fairly amongst all applicants, this policy does just that: it is a step toward making amends for centuries of an unequal playing field.