Affirmative Action heads to Supreme Court


Creative Commons image from gettyimages by Matt McClain

Students and educators march to the U.S. Department of Education in Washington D.C. on June 19, 2020. The protest was organized by Educators for Equity, an organization that promotes racial equity within the school system.

Tyler Quade, Business and Online Editor

Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer plans to retire from his position on Oct. 2, the end of the 2021-2022 Supreme Court term. While not confirmed exactly who, President Biden has stated that he will be appointing a Black woman to take his role after retirement. Before Breyer announced his retirement, the court had planned on developing a national basis for affirmative action.

Affirmative action, in this context, refers to college admissions for students of color as well as anyone who may be “disadvantaged” in the current admissions system. Due to the current shortcomings of the education system for people of color, this action is needed in order to compensate.

“Historically, African-Americans were either segregated or were not able to attend some colleges because of the admission policies…many colleges and universities did not admit people of color because of the high stakes standardized testing, which has been linked to racial bias,” cultural liaison Cornelius Rish explained.

Because of Biden’s claim that the next justice will be a Black woman, there is fear that the court will be biased towards stronger affirmative action, despite the court currently being dominated 6-3 in favor of the Republican party.

History of affirmative action

The United States has had a long history with affirmative action. The term was first coined in 1961 when President John F Kennedy’s executive order 10925 instructed federal contractors to “take affirmative action to ensure that applicants are treated equally without regard to race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.”

Even while visiting elementary schools, the kids have told Rish that “education is for white people”. He believes that this is because the kids do not see themselves reflected in the education process. They do not see the leaders, principals, and teachers who look like them.

In 1978, the Supreme Court tackled the landmark case of Regents of the University of California v. Bakke. In the case, prospective doctor Allan Bakke was over 33 when he was turned away medical school at University of California at Davis. Despite the schools insistence that Bakke was denied entry due to his age and mediocre interview, he had concluded that the real reason behind his rejection was that the school was holding 16 of its 100 open seats for students of color.

Historically, African-Americans were either segregated or were not able to attend some colleges because of the admission policies…many colleges and universities did not admit people of color because of the high stakes standardized testing, which has been linked to racial bias.”

— Cornelious Rish

The court had ruled in favor of Bakke, and ordered his admission to the school.

As an example, Rish posed a scenario. “If I had a company and I only hire white males, but then I see this discrimination and set aside a spot for someone who is not a white male, the white male feels like he’s losing something. They no longer get all 10 spots in my company, they only have nine so now they feel like they’re losing something when in essence, it wasn’t a fair playing field from the beginning.”

Inequity in academics

The reasoning behind affirmative action is that our country has a racist bias engrained in it, especially in academics. According to a study done by the Center for Law and Social Policy in 2014, 71 percent of white students had access to a full range of math and science courses as opposed to only 57 percent of Black/African American students.

Additionally, an observational study done by U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights showed that students of color tend to attend high schools with higher rates of first-year teachers, and nearly one in four districts reports a teacher salary gap of over $5,000 between high schools with the highest and the lowest Black and Latino student population.

College and career specialist Amy Carr has biracial daughters, and she sees the discrimination they face at school. She says it is tough, but having resources such as people like Rish helps in advocating for the students.

Race vs content

Many [white] people have claimed that this is ultimately an unfair system, that people who may be more “deserving” of a place at the college may be denied it for the sake of someone else who may not be as “qualified”. A common rebuttal is typically some version of how they will “not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character,” a butchering and plain misuse of the original Martin Luther King Jr. quote.
“People look as equity as equality. If I’m hungry and you’re thirsty and somebody gives us both a glass of water. Well, thats equality. but it’s not helping me because I’m not hungry. So I need food, you need water, and equity is about giving each of us what we need,” Rish said.
While this does make sense at a surface level, we are not currently in a position to facilitate this. Where we stand today, the color of ones skin does alter their chances of getting a good education, not just in college but in the elementary and high school years that many take for granted. The idea of colorblind admission cannot take place until the same opportunities are available for everyone. It cannot be said that one person is smarter than the other because they took more AP courses, as AP courses may not have been available to the other.
“It was found that African American test scores were as high as that of white students, and so that gave many colleges administration’s the avenue to admit that while they are not the scores they want, but in reality these students would have performed just the same or maybe even better than their white counterparts if given the chance,” Rish said.
What can be done
Despite personal views on affirmative action, the facts to support the idea that people of color have been grossly and disproportionately undereducated in America are solid. Average citizens cannot make great impacts on the Supreme Court, but they can make impacts on a more local level. By participating in school board meetings, staying active in groups surrounding your local district, and joining clubs that lift students of color up, change can be achieved.
“People need to take the initiative to try to come in here [the college and career center] and seek out help, but that can be a scary thing as well. I try to make this a very comforting, safe space that everyone feels welcome to come in to and get those questions answered,” Carr concluded. The college and career center is open every day, and is located across from the white pony center by the cafeteria.