Students raise concerns about the usage of race as a factor in college admissions

By Jenny Jiao, ’16

It’s that time of year: college applications. Seniors are seen frantically rushing to the College Center, asking teachers to write recommendation letters and wracking their brains for an essay idea. They scour over their applications—which activities should they include? What supplements do they have to write? Why are deadlines so soon?

And then comes the paperwork. The endless questions: What is your family’s income? What is your ethnicity?

You can’t help but wonder why these questions even matter. But they do. Not only do your grades and test scores count, so do family dynamics, gender and even race.

Race as a factor in college admissions is more formally known as affirmative action.

Affirmative action is “a set of procedures designed to eliminate unlawful discrimination between applicants, remedy the results of such prior discrimination, and prevent such discrimination in the future,” according to Cornell’s Wex Legal Dictionary.

In laymen’s terms, it means colleges are able to use race as a beneficiary factor in their admissions process by law.

UAHS college counselor Dr. Kathy Moore explains the details of the policy.

“Affirmative action is put there to give minorities opportunities they maybe wouldn’t otherwise have,” Moore said. “[But] race doesn’t play as near as high a role as GPA or test scores.”

Currently, Ohio has no law banning affirmative action in college admissions or the workplace.

Intentions

Since its first enforcement in 1965 by President Lyndon B. Johnson, affirmative action has evolved in its intentions and legalities but has maintained its contentiousness.

One of the original purposes of affirmative action was to repay for the mistreatment of minorities in America’s history, as stated by President Johnson.

“You do not take a man who for years has been hobbled by chains, liberate him, bring him to the starting line of a race, saying, ‘you are free to compete with all the others,’ and still justly believe you have been completely fair,” Johnson said in a speech at Howard University in 1965.

However, senior Miranda Ross prefers not to consider this aspect of affirmative action.

“For some people, reparations is part of [the justification],” Ross said. “But I like to think we are past putting one person above another for admissions.”

An additional justification is to promote diversity.

Ross is an intern for Ohio Senator Nina Turner (D) and believes her experiences during the campaign process have given her a unique perspective on the benefit of diversity.

“A lot of the events we do are fundraisers or meet-n-greets. Different kinds of people from all walks of life show up,” Ross said. “When I’m staffing her, I’m taking down their stories and that has an impact on me because I get to hear their struggles outside this ‘UA bubble.’”

Ross believes diversity is also one of the main reasons colleges use affirmative action as an admissions factor.

“Colleges want to…bring different races and cultures into the classroom [to] help with education and broadening people’s knowledge in regards to not only textbooks but others’ values,” Ross said.

Vice president for strategic enrollment planning at OSU Dolan Evanovich feels similarly.

“[With affirmative action], we can continue to have flexibility to admit students who bring to our campus a wide range of perspectives, ideas and backgrounds, all of which enhance the learning experience for all students,” Evanovich said, according to The Columbus Dispatch.

On the other hand, some find the notion unsettling.

Junior Audrey Jones said that affirmative action policies aren’t consistent with their principles.

“They’re trying to promote equal opportunity but it’s helping certain races like Hispanics or African-Americans but hurting others like Caucasians and Asians,” she said. “That just doesn’t sound like equality.”

Jones said another reason policy makers promote affirmative action is because minority students often come from low-income households. Poverty rates for African-Americans and Hispanics were over double those for Caucasians and Asians in 2010, according to the Center for American Progress.

However, she believes other measures would better fit this aim, such as taking into account solely socioeconomic status instead of race.

“I understand they are trying to promote minorities who have worse living conditions,” Jones said. “But using household income or something like that would be a better indicator. The color of your skin can’t necessarily demonstrate your lifestyle.”

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Impacts

Even though Ross supports affirmative action and its merits, she finds flaws in the system as it applies to her personal college admissions process.

Ross said she has heard of people putting their race on their application specifically because it can help them get in. It’s important to use affirmative action appropriately, she said.

This mindset is why Ross herself chooses not to include her minority race in her application.

“I’m technically one-fourth Turkish so I could put Middle-Eastern but I choose not to because I feel like that’s taking advantage of the system,” she said. “[Affirmative action] should be used for people whose lives really do revolve around their culture and their race.”

Jones feels affirmative action has the potential to compromise her acceptance.

“If I was a stronger candidate but someone else got in because they’re a minority and I’m not, I wouldn’t think that was fair,” Jones said.

Jones believes college acceptance shouldn’t have to do with race at all.

“I think the system is flawed because people shouldn’t be able to use their race to their advantage,” Jones said. “People shouldn’t be penalized for having affluent parents or being the ethnicity of the majority.”

Senior Brian Lee approaches the issue in a different way. He understands the merits of affirmative action but tries not to let it impact his life.

“It is what it is,” Lee said. “If I don’t get into my top college, I won’t blame it on the system because there is always something you [could have tried] harder on that could have pushed you over into the accepted pool.”

According to Lee, affirmative action isn’t as important or decisive as many think.

“If you truly want to achieve something, something as trivial as [affirmative action] shouldn’t be holding you back from your goals,” Lee said.

Year after year, students struggle with the merits and implications of affirmative action. The issue is often contested in courts and remains close to the forefront of politics.