For decades, affirmative action has remained a contentious policy implemented by many colleges, companies, and agencies. The policy aims to increase the educational and workplace opportunities of groups that are underrepresented or have been discriminated against. Different policies use affirmative action in different ways, such as through quotas or by considering race as a plus factor. But while it aims to promote diversity within an organization and provide a fair chance to people from disadvantaged backgrounds, affirmative action faces criticism for lessening the effect of people’s accomplishments and overlooking highly qualified candidates, particularly when invoked for college and university admissions. Despite this, the benefits that affirmative action brings are necessary for the development of a just society.
Affirmative action strives to ensure diversity, which is an important aspect for various reasons, especially in school and university communities. Students part of a diverse school population are able to learn from each other more effectively, as each of them have different experiences, origins, and viewpoints. Additionally, a major goal of universities is to help prepare their students for civic duties and leadership roles in the future. These representatives should serve as an accurate depiction of the community they make decisions for, which is only possible if universities intentionally admit students from a wide range of racial and ethnic backgrounds.
Many current socioeconomic inequalities are disproportionately caused by discrimination against minorities in the past, including slavery and segregation. Because of this, minorities such as black students often have less access to educational opportunities. To combat this issue, affirmative action provides these people with compensation by taking into account these differences, allowing students from low-income families to potentially emerge from the poverty line.
Additionally, an argument for affirmative action that borrows ideas from philosopher John Rawls asserts that the “merit” of a student is a social construct and that the purpose of college admissions is not to reward students for their merit. Instead, it is to satisfy the mission that universities clearly lay out, which almost never state that they solely evaluate students based on their academic performance, but also how they can contribute to the social purpose of the university. As long as the admittance of a student is aligned with the declared mission of the university, it is arguably justified.
Affirmative action undoubtedly contains flaws; for example, affluent people from traditionally underserved minorities will still reap the benefits of affirmative action, arguably at the cost of people who are significantly less well-off, but belong to a more traditionally wealthy demographic. However, affirmative action fosters diversity, which is something that other policies are unable to accomplish. Although there are drawbacks to affirmative action, its intention to create diverse communities overpowers these critiques. Additionally, a myth of affirmative action is that it admits unqualified people and diminishes the achievements of minority groups. On the contrary, students who are admitted to a school, despite being benefited by affirmative action, still deserve their admission, because they were chosen for the characteristics that they offer to that school.
The debate surrounding affirmative action blends together law, philosophy, and history, to find appropriate ways to distribute justice in university admissions. The usage of this policy will serve this purpose, through increasing diversity and helping correct past mistakes by our nation.