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Assessing Affirmative Action

November 30, 2016

As seniors go through their application process for the next month, their minds fill with questions about the mystery that is the college application process. Every senior wants to have the perfect application, but colleges oftentimes use vague policies during their admissions process, making it harder for students to figure out what they need to do. Yet one such policy known as affirmative action, or using race, ethnicity and socioeconomic status as factors in college admissions, is out of students’ hands. The racial factor of the policy has caused the most controversy over the years as some people claimed it was a form of discrimination. The policy has been highly debated over the past three years and after the Supreme Court’s decision last summer, it may be more relevant than ever.

University of Texas at Austin has been at the center of the affirmative action debate since 2013, when Abigail Fisher sued the school for discrimination following her rejection. She claimed she was denied because she was a white woman and the school’s affirmative action policy violated the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, which states “no state shall…deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” The case, Fisher v. University of Texas, made it to the Supreme Court where they voted 4-3 in favor of UT Austin on June 23, 2016.

The Young Conservatives of Texas branch at the school has hosted affirmative action bake sales in the past, once in 2013 when Fisher’s case reached the Supreme Court for the first time and again in 2016 when the Supreme Court made their decision to protest the policy, which they, like Fisher, saw as a form of racial discrimination. The sales set prices for baked goods based on a customer’s race, ethnicity and gender, with Asian males paying the most and Native Americans receiving goods for free (referring to Native American tuition waivers offered in many states).The YCT received backlash after both of these events.

In both cases, both school administrators and students spoke against the events, deeming them offensive. The University of Texas says their policy aims to curb the effects of institutional racism and promote diversity. The school still has a diversity problem; black students made up only 3.9 percent of the student body in 2015. But the YCT maintains its view that admitting students based on race is a form of discrimination. Should seniors be concerned about this policy and its effects on their academic future?

One of the main questions surrounding the policy regards how much race and ethnicity affect a college’s view of an applicant.

“Depending on the location of the school it has some impact but not as much as you may think,” college counselor Harry Nerenberg said. “Where their demographics are weak, they’re going to try to build into those demographics.”

This brings up another unknown: does the policy effectively diversify college campuses? Policies like these have been used at all levels of education to diversify student bodies. Palmetto and other high schools received desegregation orders in the 1970s that required schools to have a certain population of minority students at their schools, which led to Palmetto’s school district expansion from Pinecrest to include Perrine; however, Florida has a ban on affirmative action policies in state schools.

“In 1999, Governor Jeb Bush issued an Executive Order known as the ‘One Florida’ Initiative which prohibits the use of affirmative action in Florida universities’ admissions policies,”  Florida State University admissions director Hege Ferguson said. “The One Florida Initiative was designed to replace race-based admissions with a number of different initiatives including the Talented Twenty Program which guarantees students admission to one of the 12 public universities and colleges in Florida and increased funding for need-based financial aid.”

The Talented Twenty program guarantees admission to students who make up the top 20 percent of their class. Texas has a similar policy but only guarantees admission to the top 10 percent. This program and others like the Unconquered Scholars and the Womanist Scholars programs are what FSU uses to diversify their campus. FSU’s largest discrepancies when compared with Florida census statistics show in the percentage of African-American (8 percent at FSU vs. 16 percent of Florida population), Hispanic (16.9 percent at FSU vs. 24.5 percent of Florida population) and white (62.4 percent at FSU vs. 77.0 percent of Florida population) students on campus.

“I would say that [FSU’s campus] is very diverse,” FSU senior Lauren Teller said.

Many schools outside of Florida do use affirmative action in their admissions policies; but they claim race and ethnicity play a very limited role in their decision-making.

“Self-reported race and ethnicity are among many factors considered,” Duke University associate director of admissions Stacy Rusak said. “Academic preparation and achievement are the most important factors. Keep in mind that applicants are not required to report race or ethnicity when applying to college.”

Duke also boasts a large minority population on campus. They, like UT Austin, cite diversity on campus as the reason for their policies.

“Per our Class of 2020 Profile, 51 percent of Duke’s class self-identified as students of color: 28 percent Asian, Asian-American or Pacific Islander, 10 percent Black/African-American, 10 percent Hispanic/Latino, and 1 percent Native American, American Indian, Native Alaskan or Native Hawaiian,” Rusak said. “The university is intentionally diverse and inclusive because encounters with different perspectives, beliefs and ways of thinking lead to a more comprehensive understanding.’”

As of right now, seniors seem to be torn on the issue. Some do not express concern about the policy.

“I don’t think people of certain races have advantages over people of other races in the admission process,” senior Abigail Mitchell said. “They mainly base it off your academic and extracurricular success.”

Yet others echo the views of Fisher and the YCT.

“If someone has an Asian background they have to be extremely impressive and wow the minds of application readers while, someone else can be forgiven for some mistakes throughout their academic career simply because of their gender and race,” senior Emily Echevarria said.

Regardless of what students believe of its ethics, they will encounter this policy in many out-of-state universities. All seniors can do is hope that it treats them fairly.

“Affirmative action can be fair if done correctly,” Echevarria said. “Simply handing someone an acceptance letter without them having something to show for it would make it unfair.”

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