Two weeks ago, a case on college admissions made its way to the Supreme Court. Four years ago, a female student sued the University of Texas after being rejected, claiming that she was not accepted because she was white. It is not the first time a student has brought forth a lawsuit claiming racial discrimination. Each time it was a white student who claimed that he was rejected in favor of a less qualified minority student simply because of race. Two cases, one from the late 1970s and another from 2003, established the guidelines that most colleges follow today: A school cannot set aside a certain quota of spots just for minority applicants, but it can use race as one of many factors when considering applicants.
Unfortunately, affirmative action and holistic admissions rarely result in true diversity on campus because race is an inherent genetic trait that people are born with, like blond hair or blue eyes. Certain traits correlate to cultures that were oppressed in the past, but even a strong correlation would not mean there is a cause-effect relationship. Slapping a broad label on a person’s background and then handing out advantages to people who happen to fall into certain categories is bound to create problems.
For example, multiracial students will often become minority students on their college applications for the sole purpose of gaining an advantage in the admissions process. I have friends that claimed minority status on college applications because they have one or two non-white grandparents even though they identify as white in every other respect. If these students fall into the category of “underrepresented minority” simply because of a technicality, they will reap the benefits of minority status without actually providing any cultural diversity on campus. They have done nothing wrong or illegal, though. Who can blame them for wanting a leg up on the competition?
Income is a far better determinant of disadvantage than race, but it is usually hard to find out about the students’ socioeconomic conditions, as most schools do not release financial data. Though it represents only a small sample size, a demographics report from Duke University shows the highest average family income belongs to white students, followed in order by multiracial, Hispanic, Asian and African-American students. However, all racial groups had average annual family incomes of well over $100,000. It seems that perhaps many of the students receiving the benefits of minority status are not the stereotypical poor inner-city students but rather the students who come from well-off middle class families who probably live in a neighborhood where there are few other minority families. These students most likely do not contribute much to the diversity of social and cultural backgrounds on campus, either, so why should they receive an advantage?
There is no way to prevent these sorts of loopholes other than to simply abolish the use of race in college admissions altogether. Most people would find the use of physical characteristics other than race laughable. Minorities may have been discriminated against in the past, but extremely short and tall people face discrimination today. Ugly people probably encounter prejudice as well. Should we also extend affirmative action to include them? It is inherently unfair to give advantages to people for things that are completely outside of their control. If nothing else, affirmative action leads to malicious talk of minority students not “earning” their acceptance to a school.
The problems behind racial inequality are far too complex to solve just by targeting higher education. Using affirmative action in college admissions is simply taking the easy way out. If we are to truly solve this problem, we must overhaul the public education system and give the disadvantaged students the help they need early on. Give all students roughly equal opportunities, and nobody will have to engineer artificially equal results based on race, income or any other demographic. Society may not treat everyone equally, but it is impossible to correct those injustices by creating new ones.
Spencer Shen is a freshman from Houston, Texas. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.