You finally got your college acceptance letter together with a brochure of the school showcasing their diverse student body. You automatically feel a connection and can imagine yourself on campus. For those students who were rejected, the decision may have stemmed from affirmative action. As colleges and universities across the United States struggle with issues of diversity, affirmative action was introduced.
Through an executive order from President John F. Kennedy, affirmative action began as an assurance that federal contractors hire people regardless of race, creed, color or national origin. Over the years, the concept of affirmative action was expanded to include equal employment and educational opportunities.
Some people would describe affirmative action as an act that helps erase the invisible social barrier caused by years of misfortune and inequality faced by minorities in the United States. For decades, society has disputed whether or not affirmative action actually works in favor of minorities, or increases racial injustice.
Statistically, minorities in the U.S are prone to crimes in their communities, low standardized test scores and being most likely incarcerated. A long history of systemic segregation, discrimination and inequality pushed minorities into ghettos and underfunded schools, contributing to today’s reality.
This pattern can have a huge effect on minority children, making it harder for them to get jobs and be accepted into colleges, due to years of oppression. Therefore, affirmative action works to make sure they aren't discriminated against and are given the same opportunity as others.
17-year-old Alicia Brown, a senior at Boston Arts Academy, didn't know much about affirmative action until her English teacher made her watch a video about it.
“Imagine being in critical condition and you need surgery. Who would you rather have the operation performed by?” asked Brown. “Someone who got accepted into Harvard Medical School because of their merits and academic strengths? Or, someone who got accepted because of their race?’’
Gladys Soto, a junior at Day and Evening Academy, is on the other side of the spectrum. “I think affirmative action is very important and necessary. When we look back at the history and the struggles that minorities in our country have faced, the last thing the government can do to help make up for it is provide us some overcompensation,’’ said Soto.
Christopher Wright is the Dean of Admission and Enrollment Management at MassArt. He said that questions about affirmative action are “tough”, and it all depends on how it’s used. “Using affirmative action to check off a box to say you're a diverse institution might not be the best use of the law,” he said.
When conducting outreach to potential students, Wright and his team make sure their outreach is diverse by visiting urban schools and local nonprofits so that at the end of the day, they have enough qualified candidates to create a melting pot.
Wright believes that being fair and equal to all is most important. “Our job is to get people from all different types of backgrounds to consider our institution, and from there, only set those students up for success by admitting the ones that are qualified.”
Michael Kauffmann, an English teacher at Cristo Rey Boston believes that when it comes to college admissions and hiring for jobs, it is both fair and beneficial to consider a variety of factors, including - but not limited to - race.
“I believe the ultimate goal is to have a truly representative society, where the teachers, policeman, lawyers, CEOs, and politicians look like the people whom they serve,” said Kauffman. “If we ever have that world, maybe we won’t need affirmative action, but just one glance at Congress will show anyone that we’re not there yet.”