Officially, it is the set of public initiatives designed to help eradicate discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex or nationality. It is most commonly exercised in education admissions and hiring in the workplace. Recently, it has resurfaced as a political bone of contention with the Supreme Court’s decision at the end of last year to review the constitutionality of the University of Michigan’s affirmative action programs. In mid-January, the White House itself took a stance, filing an amicus curae brief with the Supreme Court in opposition of the policy.
Clearly, the debate is far from over, still inciting furious disagreement and taking of sides. Partisans usually admit that it is not an ideal remedy, but one that is still necessary until discrimination of minorities diminishes sufficiently. Opponents dispute it on the grounds of reverse discrimination and unjustifiable preference based merely upon race. While affirmative action is not instituted formally at Amherst as it is at many larger public universities, race definitely should play a role in admissions.
It is not exactly clear how race figures in the College’s admissions process (mostly because of its individualized, holistic nature) but it is and should remain a consideration. Thus, the checkbox for race/ethnicity should remain; of course, checking the box is optional.
It is true that the issue is larger than and perhaps irrelevant to Amherst’s small population, but the role of race in admissions is something to be questioned in colleges of any size. The use of quotas is unacceptable, but point systems are suitable at larger universities confronting thousands of applications.
Affirmative action could be called a “necessary evil” in that it is not the perfect antidote, but it is the most effective solution for the time being. Sure, it doesn’t solve the root of the problem itself-racism, sexism, and all other forms of discrimination-but it helps to alleviate some of its effects. Diversity, even if it must be induced, is beneficial both for the student body and faculty of any college or university.