Defending Affirmative Action

Affirmative Action, In Defense of Affirmative Action, Affirmative Action Defense

There’s a great editorial out today in “The Washington Post” that defends Affirmative Action.

While we’ve done it quite a few times over the last few days, we’ll continue defending Affirmative Action today. There’s an excellent editorial published today on the pages of “The Washington Post” authored by Julia Sass Rubin, an associate professor at the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers University and a visiting associate professor at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University. That’s quite a mouthful of titles indeed! Anyhow, the editorial concerns the signal from the U.S. Department of Justice that it intends to litigate against universities like Harvard that allegedly discriminate against Asian American applicants. As regular readers of our college admissions blog know all too well, we absolutely concur — Asian Americans do face discrimination in highly selective college admissions. But attacking Affirmative Action is a haphazard, illogical way to go about ending this discrimination.

In Sass Rubin’s editorial, she argues — correctly, we might add — that Asian applicants actually comprise a disproportionate percentage of incoming classes at Harvard than compared to their piece of the pie chart of the American demographic.  As she states, “Harvard actually accepts a disproportionately large percentage of Asian students, who make up approximately 6 percent of the U.S. population but will comprise more than 22 percent of Harvard’s incoming class.”

One of the central arguments of groups alleging discrimination against Asian American applicants at schools like Harvard is that the standardized test scores of Asian American applicants who are denied admission are often higher than non-Asian American applicants who earn admission. These are supposed to be objective benchmarks and yet, objectively, admissions officers aren’t relying strictly on test scores as the basis for their decision-making (which they’re quite candid about!). As Sass Rubin writes, “Ironically, Harvard has contributed to its current legal challenges by requiring standardized tests as part of its admission process. This helps legitimize standardized tests as an objective means of evaluating applicants. In reality, the tests favor students from families with greater wealth and educational attachment.”

Is the practice of Affirmative Action flawed? Yes. Is it the best system we’ve got here in America to foster an American meritocracy? Yes.

And are Asian Americans quite often from families with greater wealth and educational attachment than the rest of the pie chart of the American demographic? You bet they are. As Sass Rubin astutely points out, “The strong correlation between income, education and race/ethnicity translates the economic and educational bias of standardized tests into a racial one, giving an advantage to Asians and whites. Although substantial poverty exists among both groups, on average, Asians and whites in the United States are much wealthier and have significantly higher educational attainment than blacks and Hispanics.”

In spite of the signal from the U.S. Department of Justice, under the leadership of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, to litigate against the practice of Affirmative Action on the basis that the practice fosters the discrimination of Asian American applicants, we don’t foresee Affirmative Action ending anytime soon in college admissions. And why? Because of arguments like Julia Sass Rubin’s.

Do Asian Americans face discrimination in highly selective college admissions? Are they so often stereotyped by admissions officers? Are so many Asian American applicants with great scores and grades denied admission by our nation’s most elite universities? Yes. Absolutely. Yes. But what about the discrimination that African American and Latino applicants face in highly selective college admissions? Research proves that standardized tests like the SAT and ACT are coachable, that with great tutoring and practice scores can come up significantly. We see it all the time (thanks to Ivy Coach’s fantastic SAT/ACT tutor, Linda!). And in a country where many African American and Latino applicants can’t afford tutoring or don’t have the time to practice for a standardized test because they have to work a job after school, that too seems like discrimination — significantly undercutting the argument that it’s Asian Americans who are disadvantaged at the expense of African American and Latino applicants.

Is Affirmative Action flawed? Yes. Absolutely. Yes. But is it the best system we have? Yes. Absolutely. Yes. And while we will continue standing atop our soapbox calling for an end to Asian American discrimination in highly selective college admissions, we will also continue defending Affirmative Action. It’s all we’ve got in the hope of creating a genuine American meritocracy, which should be the ultimate goal in college admissions decision-making.


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