BY NINA LARBI’22
High schoolers across the nation are waiting anxiously for their college acceptance letters. When they receive their decisions, the agonizing often isn’t over. Students wonder why they did not get accepted by MIT while their friends did, or why they did not get enough financial aid from the University of Pittsburgh while their classmate got a full ride.
Race is often central to these questions because of affirmative action. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, “in institutions of higher education, affirmative action refers to admission policies that provide equal access to education for those groups that have been historically excluded or underrepresented.” The recent lawsuit against Harvard University led by the group Students for Fair Admissions (SFFA) on behalf of Asian-American applicants has raised questions about how colleges admit students. I believe the controversy surrounding affirmative action serves as a distraction, a way to anger people and lead them to accuse black and brown students for “unfairly taking their spot”. This moves attention away from the actual “affirmative action” that occurs: legacy admissions and bribery that rich, often white students benefit from.
The case against affirmative action is that admissions should be race-blind and only admit applicants based on test scores. Opponents say that the policy is no longer needed because society has changed and people of color no longer need this advantage. Such an assertion is completely false. Black and brown individuals disproportionately live in poverty, which deeply affects their education. Without money, these students cannot focus on school and may need to work to help their families. The schools that low-income students attend are often underfunded and lack resources because school funding is determined through property taxes. They do not have access to or time for AP classes, SAT and ACT tutors or academic programs, among other key resources that help students get accepted into colleges.
Furthermore, for many people of color, racial and ethnic identity is a central part of who they are, so race-blind applications would not provide a whole picture of who they are. I did not write my Common Application essay on my ethnic identity because I knew colleges wanted to accept brown students who would look good on their brochures; I decided to write about it because it is central to who I am.
SFFA is a suspicious organization, to say the least. At the forefront of the group is Edward Blum, a far-right “activist” who also spearheaded the Fisher v. University of Texas case in 2016. The plaintiff in F.v.UT, Abigail Fisher, was denied admission to the University of Texas in 2008 and went to the Supreme Court, claiming that she was denied admission because she is white and that the University’s use of race as a factor in admission decisions violated the equal protection clause in the 14th Amendment. She ended up losing the case.
Blum is using Asian-Americans as a way to dis- mantle systems that are based on uplifting people of color. As Hasan Minhaj stated in his Net ix show “Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj,” Blum “miscast his lead” in the Abigail Fisher case. According to Minhaj, he lost because Fisher is white, but now that Blum is using Asian-Americans as his “lead,” he has more of a chance of winning because they are people of color.
The issues surrounding affirmative action are obscuring something much larger: the “affirmative action” that inherently benefits the rich: legacy admissions and bribery. 42 percent of private and six percent of public schools consider legacy as a factor in the admissions process. At Harvard, 14 percent of students are legacies and, according to NPR, a study commissioned by the SFFA found that the acceptance rate among legacies is 33 percent, compared to the regular application pool’s acceptance rate of six percent. Legacy admissions at many prestigious private schools are tied to white wealth: the vast majority of those who went to Harvard in the past were rich white individuals, and today, the entire admissions system serves as a way to keep them in educational and economic power.
Recently, federal agents uncovered that various rich parents bribed a college admissions counselor, William “Rick” Singer, to get their children into top schools like Yale and the University of Southern California. Singer set up a network of corrupt test proctors, coaches and others to ensure that these rich children would be accepted into such prestigious institutions by changing SAT scores and bribing coaches into distributing athletic scholarships.
These students literally took the places of more deserving applicants; black and brown students do not. They are not the problem; the way that the educational system is built to keep the rich in power is. The whole movement around the eradication of affirmative action thrives off the general distrust of black and brown people and serves to divide people of color and hide the true issue: legacy admissions and bribry. Before you say that the only reason we have our acceptance letters and scholarships is because of the color of our skin, please reflect on this.