February 12, 2017

REDDY | Why Affirmative Action is Necessary

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Everyone has dreams, and a college degree has always been seen as a crucial means to reaching them. As a result, more people than ever are trying to obtain higher education, and they have good reason to believe that the quality and prestige of the college they attend can have a significant impact on the quality and prestige of the work they do after graduation. Controversy arises when it’s deemed that certain groups of people have an unfair advantage in the admissions process.

I have listened to engineers — male engineers — lament the school’s allegedly lower standards for female applicants. They had to work extremely hard to gain acceptance to Cornell’s engineering program, while others, they claim, just “walked in” because they “have vaginas.” Despite the misogyny conveyed by this language, however, unqualified girls in engineering are the least of our concerns, when one considers the apparent injustice done when black and Latinx applicants with credentials inferior to those of white applicants are given what those white applicants deem preferential treatment in college admissions.  Such a practice makes it easy to question the fairness of the affirmative action policy taken up by most universities in the United States.

My opinion?  Of course affirmative action would be a blatantly unjust practice — if we lived in a perfect world. It would be ridiculous to give anyone an edge if everyone started in the same place: if women weren’t systematically led away  from pursuing STEM fields, or weren’t held in lesser regard than men;  if Black and Latinx people were treated in the same way white people are, and even if, in India, my parents’ homeland, “untouchables” or people of the lower castes were afforded the same opportunities as people of higher, “cleaner” castes.  If all conditions were equal for these various groups, then yes, affirmative action would be unfair. But such equalities remain only hypotheticals. We are far from attaining them, but affirmative action is a step in the right direction. In track, a “staggered start” gives the runners different starting lines to account for the length differences in each lane, in order to make the race fair. Affirmative action is a protocol that attempts to equalize the distance each individual must cross in order to reach his or her goals, to offset hurdles like racism, sexism and prejudices that come in any other shape or form, the indisputably real and unfair disadvantages. What some see as equality waning is actually privilege slipping, and society progressing towards a world closer to the ideals of equal opportunity.

This metaphor isn’t perfect. The track has each competitor run the exact same stretch, while affirmative action cannot enforce complete parity. It is merely a buffer against institutional oppression that does and will for an indefinite time continue to have a profound impact on individual achievement.  That oppression is the real injustice, the one that rightly deserves more attention than the ongoing debate about affirmative action in college admissions. The only thing truly concerning is the failure of opponents of the policy to recognize this.

Especially concerning was a conversation in which I was discussing the ignorance surrounding by affirmative action with a Latina friend, who spoke to her experience as a high school senior accepted to Cornell and shortly subjected to interrogations about her true merits. I was momentarily surprised  to find out the interrogators were actually Asian-American, an instance of another view of the affirmative action debate: qualified Asian-Americans being denied admission to universities because of their race. As an Asian-American, I think the argument is strewn with holes.

Some affirmative action opponents advocate for socioeconomics as the variable attempting to control for systemic oppression. However, distinct racial pasts indicate that race and income-levels are not separate but in fact deeply related. The notion that rich white students are only interacting with rich white students on campus conflates the issues of racial diversity and income inequality among college students. It also ignores that socioeconomic-based or race-based affirmative action is not mutually exclusive.

The fact of the matter is, many Asian-Americans can trace their origins in America to parents or grandparents granted entry and decent employment in this country on account of their  advanced degrees. This history is especially apparent for those who have children vying for spots in selective universities. Black and Latinx families in general have a different one. African-Americans can trace their American roots back to slavery, and many in the Latinx-American community have and continue to be held down by the hardships of being undocumented in this country, land that their ancestors lived on before European immigrants came to the New World and massacred indigenous communities. Even with the centuries of social progress in America, both groups also know centuries of violence, disinvestment and ongoing inequality. This is just one comparison that explains the “model minority,” a stereotype grounding the argument Asian-Americans have made in explaining the unfairness of the affirmative action policy in relation to their community. It is one that reflexively pits minorities against minorities, with defendants targeting black and Latinx student demographics which often only make up five to fifteen percent of the college population while white students, some of whom are also allied against affirmative action, can make up 65 to 75 percent.

A case can definitely be made for more Asian-Americans in American universities, but by joining the tired offense against other underrepresented minorities, we fail to recognize the bigger picture. To some extent, Asian-Americans who cite their higher GPAs and SAT scores as undeniable proof of racial injustice overlook the values of holistic admissions and plays into the stereotypes of being industrious machines poring over numbers and statistics. Good for studying but not much else, including creative and leadership positions.

It shouldn’t be surprising that affirmative action can actually be a stereotype-maintaining force in some instances. For underrepresented minorities, it can be a constant reminder of a perception that they are ‘not good enough’ to be on the Hill and can therefore hamper individual potential. It is a system that wasn’t created for us, for minorities, and does reflect a larger injustice. However, it is necessary in terms of its value as an acknowledgment of that injustice; setting the stage for serious policies that use its potential to make sure we may live in a world where head starts will become unnecessary.

Narayan Reddy is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at nreddy@cornellsun.com. Reddy Set Go appears alternating Mondays this semester.

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  • One Armed Bandit

    “setting the stage for serious policies that use its potential to make sure we may live in a world where head starts will become unnecessary”


    “Everything was Beautiful and Nothing Hurt”

    Typical Leftist utopia: everyone is equal hur hur dur

  • One Armed Bandit

    When will people get it through their thick heads that people aren’t equal?

  • Hank

    The Supreme Court has held that alleged discrimination in society is not a legal justification for affirmative action. Only the sham objective of promoting diversity is a proper legal basis for blatant racial discrimination. Diversity is supposed to enhance the learning experience by introducing multiple viewpoints into the University community. Every thinking person (liberals: this leaves you out) recognizes that this is totally bogus. American universities have no interest in a diversity of ideas or philosophies, as Cornell itself demonstrated last week.

    • Shane

      What did Cornell do last week?

      • Tom

        Voted down a resolution to strive to maintain some sort of ideological balance in the faculty.

  • One Armed Bandit

    There is an IQ hierarchy: Ashkenazi Jews at the apex, then NE Asians, then Gentiles, then all the misc brown people. Learn it, love it.

    • An Indian Immigrant

      No there isn’t, knucklehead.

      Stand on your own individual merit, not the accomplishment of other people in your ethnic group.

  • An Indian Immigrant

    And THAT’S how you got Trump!

  • An Indian Immigrant

    Let’s analyze Narayan’s op-ed:

    > “Despite the misogyny conveyed by this language”
    It isn’t misogyny. It’s the truth. Women have vaginas.

    > “the apparent injustice done”
    It IS injustice, not “apparent” injustice. When a college rejects a qualified applicant, it is doing injustice to him. Sugarcoat it all you want with flowery adjectives like “apparent”, but the truth is still there.

    > “if women weren’t systematically led away from pursuing STEM fields, or weren’t held in lesser regard than men”
    Are the rejected applicants doing this? By your logic, collective punishment is 100% justified.

    > “even if, in India, my parents’ homeland, ”
    Just STFU already. I personally know someone who got into a prestigious engineering college with a NEGATIVE score on an entrance exam, while that same college rejected another person I know who had an 80th percentile score. Also, ask your parents why they emigrated to America. I know why I did – the quota system was one of the reasons.

    > “In track, a “staggered start”
    Pathetic analogy. You’re not equalizing opportunity; you’re equalizing the results of high school performance. “You worked your ass off? Well. sorry kid. Meritocracy is privilege.”

    > “What some see as equality waning is actually privilege slipping”
    No. What we’re seeing is meddling by social justice busybodies like you.

    > “a buffer against institutional oppression that does and will for an indefinite time continue to have a profound impact on individual achievement.”
    And there it is – **indefinite time**. You petty totalitarians use a vague definition of justice to inflict injustice. And there’s no end in sight.

    > “shortly subjected to interrogations about her true merits”
    That’s what happens when you don’t use merit as the only criteria. Read up on what Clarence Thomas says on the topic.

    > “As an Asian-American, I think the argument is strewn with holes”
    Well, the only thing strewn with holes is your pathetic writing.

    > “on account of their advanced degrees”
    My Korean dry cleaner’s kid attends an Ivy League. And how many white kids have parents with advanced degrees? Shove that advanced degree hypothesis.

    > “It is one that reflexively pits minorities against minorities”
    Really? Here you are, pitting all minorities, including our kind, against whites.

    > “Good for studying but not much else, including creative and leadership positions.”
    The most racist comment I’ve read in this article comes from you. Pathetic.

    > “affirmative action can actually be a stereotype-maintaining force”
    No shit, Sherlock.

    Comments calling me a racist, sexist, misogynist, bigot, homophobe start in 3.. 2.. 1..

    • Dr. Necessitor

      Damn. Try not to pull any punches next time. Lol. Good response and spot-on.

  • Surprised SirPriced

    It’s a good article and has some merit like the action writer is trying to defend. However, you must count the facts that first generation Asian Americans face challenges of their own. They are kids who join school and notice that they look diffrent, speak diffrent, eat diffrent and pray diffrent. They notice their teachers and friends don’t understand their issues. They realize their educated parents don’t really understand this culture and this educational system. Their parents are people with feet in two diffrent boats, while they want kids to be successful, they also don’t want them to “waste” time on non mathy/sciencey/non musical extracurriculars. They don’t want kids to date or extensively socialize with races/religions they feel intimidated of. Most of them don’t know GPA gaming, won’t send kids to camps, won’t let them watch tv programs everyone in school talks about, clothes that look cool to younger generation. They want kids to go forward yet hold them back with religious/cultural and psychological ropes.

    It’s funny that immigrants are often in favor of banning new immigrants and Asians who make it into Ivory Ivy Towers, often favor discrimination against others Asians.

  • Surprised SirPriced

    My niece is brown, Muslim, woman who works hard, got insanely high GPA, scored almost perfect on SAT and does theater and support feminist organizations.

    She does all of that while constantly getting grief from her her parents for not covering her head, talking to boys, pursuing theater, being feminist, wanting to study philosophy instead of going for an accelerated BS/MD and not promising that she is going to marry a brown Muslim. She isn’t allowed to stay late for activities or to travel for competitions or play sports. She broke so many rules but as a good kid she tries to keep a balance and not give unnecessary grief to her parents.

    When her application would go infront of admission officers, all they’ll see is a stereotype, they won’t know her struggles, her handicaps or how well she tries to keep both of her worlds together. Not going to prom, not dating, not going to UIL, not wearing clothes all friends wear, eating salad s as she can’t eat non kosher meat, so many little things she has to sacrifice. Her parents have no idea about how American educational system works. She has seen financial difficulties as it took her parents some time to get settled here.

    She is underprivileged in a very different way then a poor first generation college AA kid can be but her struggles are as restricting and as painful. It’s sad that she won’t get any compensation for facing it, no boost for still managing a good resume, just an assumption from adcoms that hey another affluent Asian kid with high stats and a rather lackluster resume.

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  • Alex

    Yes, we don’t live in a perfect world, the problem is every human being is different so we can’t live in a perfect world. If most doctors are white/asian should we lower pass grades for black/hispanics? Do we have to mandate quotas so every person you see in a certain place of power be it hollywood,dunkin donuts,play,model competition,etc has to reflect the ratio of 1/4 each of asian,hispanic,white,black,etc?

    Of course what if many blacks&hispanics don’t want to be a doctor, what if many asians don’t want to be a coal miner do we have to “reserve seats”. What if many women don’t want to work in oil rigging,mining,construction,roofing,plumbing,longshoremen,etc.

    Want affirmative action, okay lets give ted cruz&allen west folks more seats. The partial cure to eliminate the need for affirmative action is to eliminate things like heavy reliance on sat scores and give credence to other things. The problem with AA organizations defending affirmative action is that if the person in question wasn’t asian they wouldn’t need higher test scores or perhaps other activities to get in. Remember that current guidelines allow “race” aka racism to achieve a “diverse student body”.

    However, race is not really “diverse”,which person is more qualified a “ted cruz” or a white non-hispanic person who lived in a foreign country as a child and may know their language. Who is hispanic, if your grandparents are from spain or your argentinian you qualify. You could argue that you want a student body to “look diverse”, well according to what ratio, south asians and chinese are 1/3 of the world’s population,should we go by us state population or city,its silly to want diversity for the sake of skin color. Most people care if that doctor or professor’s skin tone is a mosaic. Besides, many white people tan, and who is “White”, jews,dark skinned arab from yemen,eastern european/russian,someone from a former soviet republic, would be given less preferential treatment than a “ted cruz”. Are Dominicans black,many african americans love to talk about slavery as an an excuse, no doubt some racial bias exist in parts of the country if not outright, but are asians mandating special treatment as former colonies. Should Dominicans,Panamanians,Brazilians,Puerto Ricans be considered black? Many hispanics are descendants of african slaves, yet many don’t play the same race card as many AmA’s do,I’m not arguing that one group is better than the other because AA’s may have different cultural taste since they are native born americans but they are likewise descendants of african slaves who’s owners may have been AmA. In fact its silly, because many AmA actually have white blood compared to native african immigrants due to miscegenation. A look at the dna profile of many Ama means they are actually part white. I wonder if Obama would get the same voting power if he was light-skinned,I know race isn’t the only reason folks vote,still.

    In a country as highly diverse as the USA, we should scrap AA. Also, while many would looked at an african or latino as being a graduate of cornell,one know wonders if the person got in because of their skin color or melanin. Of course many greeks and italians may look brown while many puerto ricans may look latina but be white skinned but not so white as people native from spain or most white cubans. AA opens more of a can of worms, are filipinos spanish, generally note but 3% or so may have spanish blood and who’s to verify, elizabeth warren claiming native blood. Also what majors are chosen,less technical ones like the liberal arts?

    I presume AA might have some sort of place if the person’s department/school/major is folklore or some ethnic or cultural department, but even then a white european who isn’t spanish who knows another language and grew up in that country may not benefit. Mormoms for instance spend a lot of time in other countries, while some natives care less, aka ted cruz or rubio who are not really different in the case of the former as other “white”. In nyc people complaint about the fire department being too white, but correction is mostly black even though ny is 1/4 black. Should we attrition blacks out? At some point it gets insulting when folks say act or think like black or white. “Minorities” may or many not care to assimilate and add to that discussion of race/culture. A muslim woman in niqab should be allowed in class of course,but is she going to give a lecture in front of men and volunteer regardless of race. Certain jews may not assimilate either.

    AA may be well intention but its causing more trouble then worth.