What’s Left: The Importance of Inclusion



Ryan Martin

Policies of affirmative action in this nation have been imposed by the federal government for a half-century in order to make up for centuries of oppression against minority groups. There are no strong arguments for why such measures should be completely discontinued in the present day. It is time for a serious reassessment by members of the Supreme Court and lawmakers in Washington on how best to encourage diversity on school campuses. However, the foreseeable attempt by the Supreme Court to end all affirmative action programs in this country on the basis of the Fisher v. University of Texas-Austin case is the kind of change this country is looking for right now. Most conservatives will point to recent poll numbers suggesting increased opposition to affirmative ac­tion policies, with a recent Rasmussen study showing that 55 percent of Americans oppose them. How could this possibly be? How could it be that a country with a white population accounting for 72 percent of its citizens produces a poll suggesting that a majority of Americans are against policies that would make it easier for minorities to attain entrance to college? The answer is simple: people fear changes that negatively impact their economic standing and relative power within a society.

Even though affirmative action has not done enough to reduce poverty rates among minorities or truly empower mi­nority communities by broad definitions, it has led to tangible enough changes with regard to the workforce. Greater diversity on the campuses of elite institutions of learning over the past 40 years has inevitably led to a workforce that includes higher percentages of minority workers in higher-paying jobs. This still does not mean that the problem has been solved. There are still plenty of minority students in poverty-stricken environments that would benefit from policies that in some way put them on an even playing field for college acceptance with economically advantaged white students. There is no way to accurately mea­sure the differences in quality of education between a minority student living in an inner city with that of a white student living in a suburb, but a rational person can posit that the differences are significant. Lower quality teachers, learning materials and classrooms are just a few examples of restrictions that would be placed on such a minority student. Is a white student in a suburb responsible for the circumstances which they are born into? Certainly not, and a minority student shouldn’t be either. The government has a responsibility to level the playing field between socioeconomically and racially diverse students based on evident historical differences in quality of education.

Notions of equality of opportunity are at the crux of the affirmative action debate, and even most, like myself, who stand in support of such policies will agree that some change is necessary to maintain the true values behind their original implementa­tion. For instance, there is absolutely no reason why affirmative action should benefit a person of a minority group who comes from anything equivalent to or greater than a middle class economic standing. Such a person has attained the necessary resources to have equal opportunity to reach college: quality teachers, classrooms, books, SAT tutors, etc. A black or Hispanic student in such a situation does not deserve a leg up on a white student of equal or possibly lesser economic stand­ing. Thus, lawmakers or members of the Supreme Court should impose some income threshold as a standard for universities when they take account of the racial differences of their applicants. If this were not feasible in the legislative realm, then financial aid status should be the determinant of whether or not a minority student received preferential treatment in the admissions process. With a conservative majority in the Supreme Court and a Republican majority in Congress, the effort is not bent toward transforming affirmative action policy, but rather at eliminating it altogether.

With its decision to hear the Fisher v. University of Texas-Austin cases, it appears that the Supreme Court is on the path to ending affirmative action programs. The concept of “colorblind­ness” that is reinforced by the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment will most likely lead the conservative majority in the Court to decide that any attempted remediation of racial oppression by the creation of an admissions program like the University of Texas’s based on clearly defined racial standards, is inherently wrong. Such a decision would be harmful and worsen an already egregious income gap, which is certainly related to historic racial economic barriers.

Contact Ryan Martin at [email protected]