One day, affirmative action will cease to be necessary. For now, it remains a tool that gives preference to certain groups in order to foster diversity in competitive environments. In this way, it serves as an attempt to reconcile our nation’s history of racism and bigotry with the inequities of the present. We cannot deny that racism, structural and otherwise, is still prevalent in contemporary society, even in deliberately diverse institutions such as Brown. However, we question whether affirmative action helps or hurts the quest for egalitarianism.
Though affirmative action policies still exist at Brown and our peer institutions, there is growing discontent with policies that grant people of color admission to competitive schools notwithstanding possibly lower quantitative qualifications. In the context of college admissions, affirmative action, like athletic recruiting, inherently gives preference to students not based on their academic merit. Affirmative action addresses the fact that minority students are more often marginalized and face severe structural inequalities. An unintended consequence of affirmative action, however, is that it fosters unwarranted guilt. Students who are beneficiaries of race preferential treatment may feel that achieved success by means other than solely their own merits. The institution of affirmative action, while noble in intent, is precarious and ultimately unsustainable.
However, while we believe that affirmative action should eventually be phased out, it is still absolutely necessary in the present. Why? Let’s face it – discrimination and racism are alive and well in the American system. We are still a long way from a society with equal opportunity for all.
At Brown, we pride ourselves on the ideal of “seeing past color.” As well as being a problematic assertion in and of itself – in that it supports the false notion that we now live in a post-racial society – is it really the best choice never to account for race? Take, for instance, the student groups on campus whose foundation lies in the solidarity of identity, often through race. The continued existence of groups such as the Black Student Union or the Latin American Students Association reflects the correlation between racial solidarity and racial injustice. These groups, which are integral to fostering racial awareness at Brown, are also support systems. They help their members navigate racial identity in the face of historical and existing discrimination.
In a recent Herald poll, over 58 percent of students who were polled opposed using race in Brown student admissions, though more than half of those who opposed consideration of race supported consideration of socioeconomic status. In a perfectly progressive world where race is no longer a factor, we would agree with these students. However, we are not yet at the point where we can disregard racial factors as relics of the past. Structural inequities are still clearly in place for people of color. Unchecked ignorance does not serve as an excuse for the existence of racism, nor is it an excuse for conveniently ignoring inequality.
Until we are all at peace with our heterogeneous society, affirmative action is a necessary institution. It serves as a reminder that racism has not been left behind in the 20th century – in fact, it has evolved into an even more complex beast. We are all complicit in a system that disadvantages minorities at a structural level. It’s time to reconsider if the idea of “seeing past race” actually does anyone any good at all.
Editorials are written by The Herald’s editorial page board: its editors, Daniel Jeon and Annika Lichtenbaum, and its members, Georgia Angell, Sam Choi and Rachel Occhiogrosso. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.