Affirmative Action more than we think

Ann Vettikkal | Staff Writer

College is always on my mind. Right now, as a junior, the prospect of moving away from home is a blurry image; it feels like an event too far away to picture clearly. But it’s apparent everywhere I look in MHS that the idea of college motivates most high schoolers to make certain choices. 

College is the underlying cause, for better or worse, of many volunteer shifts, random extracurriculars, and all-nighters accompanied by AP homework. This is all in the hopes that these efforts will directly result in something other than than the disheartening five words, “we regret to inform you,” right? 

Well, it’s more complicated than that — but for a good reason. 

The recent outcry toward a policy called affirmative action has been circulating around the current presidential administration, particularly about a lawsuit filed against Harvard in 2015, claiming that affirmative action is discriminatory. But the notion that minorities with less merit are ‘stealing’ spots from qualified kids is not the whole story — and it’s also a flawed one. 

The first issue is that we have imprecisely simplified what affirmative action really is and the way that colleges usually abide by it. By definition, affirmative action is a policy that provides more educational opportunities to minority groups that historically have been discriminated against. This means that students are not being swapped out and spots are being stolen — it simply means that pool of students to choose from is getting larger.

The second issue is that considering college admissions as purely a merit-based activity, in the sense of test scores or amount of extracurriculars, can dishonor an applicant’s background. The kid from a low-income area who goes to a school with an AP course list countable on one hand may be as smart as the one who can afford SAT tutoring in a well-to-do suburb. If we are just judging by test scores, then it seems like the latter has more ‘merit’ than the former. But that’s clearly not true. This is where affirmative action comes in. Reviewing applicants holistically is just an elusive way of saying colleges seek a diverse student body, which means they will pay attention to underrepresented applicants, given that they are qualified. But qualifications are three dimensional; it’s more than the numbers that meet the eye. 

I will be the first one to admit that college admissions is far from perfect. And given that I’m Asian and my race is overrepresented, I should be arguing against this policy for personal benefit. But we can’t assess affirmative action in terms of ourselves because it’s never targeting any one individual but the larger picture. If I take myself out of the equation, I would rather be in a campus full of people with differing, insightful ideas and perspectives than purely good test takers, wouldn’t you? 

Decades ago, when John F. Kennedy issued this executive order, discrimination existed in a clear-cut fashion. And it helped redefine American voice and culture to reflect the real United States that many refused to acknowledge. It may be difficult for us in this particular place of privilege, attending a school like Mason, where an abundance of resources and qualified teachers exist, to see how much benefit we receive from this environment. 

Education is precious and scare. The stability of someone’s home life can be the difference between a diploma and dropping out. Affirmative action may need altercations as we move through time but trashing it completely is like sending a car to the junkyard because it needs an oil change. 

So as many seniors undergo the daunting process of applying to college, understand that this a policy beyond you and I — it’s about the high schooler down the street, downtown, across the country. No matter how perfectly manicured our college applications look, this will always be out of our control. Learn to accept it before colleges decide whether or not to accept you.