Affirmative action-the debate that never ends

As a minority student, I have recently found myself torn on the affirmative action issue. I sometimes wonder how much my Hispanic background contributed to my acceptance into Amherst College. Hacker himself admits that he was accepted to Amherst College partly because his father was a professor. Although this was not a race-based preference, it was an advantage nonetheless and, according to Hacker, “preferences have always been the name of the game.” One of Hacker’s reasons for favoring affirmative action is that he believes that intellectual diversity is an important part of education, and I agree. If we all had similar views and racial backgrounds, how rich and diverse would classroom conversations be? However, I do not agree with Hacker’s argument that black and white students have different learning styles, and frankly, I think it’s insulting.

Hacker gave the example of blacks who perform poorly on standardized tests like the MCATS, but do just fine in the real world. According to Hacker, if affirmative action programs do not help blacks to get into medical school, then they will never get the chance to be doctors. But this is certainly not always true. On this point, I agree with Connerly, who thinks that race-based preferences imply that blacks do not deserve the success that they attain: “preferences on the basis of race marginalize people.”

Another thing that bothered me about Hacker’s argument was that he, for the most part, avoided talking about how affirmative action affects Hispanics and Asians. From Hacker’s viewpoint, there are two races: black and white. But even if blacks are the group most affected by affirmative action programs, how can he ignore Hispanics, who now make up about 60 percent of the minority population in the U.S.? According to him, Hispanics and Asians have assimilated better than blacks, or as he put it, “co-opted” into American society. He also said that Hispanics have a choice to identify as Hispanic or as white, whereas most blacks do not have the luxury of this choice. But what if your name is Martinez or Rodriguez? Do those Hispanics have a choice? When an admissions officer is looking at that application, it is likely that he or she will assume the candidate is Hispanic, and this might affect their decision to accept or deny them.

Talking about race is often awkward and uncomfortable, which is another problem in the affirmative action debate. I admit that I often hesitate before using the word “race,” but if we can’t talk about it, how are we supposed to make any progress regarding the issue? Connerly says, “Race continues to be a thorn in our nation’s side.” He brought up Brown vs. the Board of Education to remind the audience of the decision “separate is not equal.” For Connerly, affirmative action does not treat people as equals and it is therefore “wrong, constitutionally and morally.” Although I realize that Connerly is right-that giving preferences to a certain group means not treating them as equals-my question is, is it not necessary to have this “unequal” policy to create another kind of equality? Without affirmative action programs, the number of minority students going to prestigious colleges-or perhaps even to any college-will decrease significantly, not because they are less capable, but because they do not always have the same access to education.

Connerly proposes a new policy to implement as an alternative to affirmative action programs in order to help remedy inequality in access to education. First, he wants to eliminate legacies, and I absolutely agree with this idea. Why should anyone be admitted to a school just because their mom or dad went there? As far as I’m concerned, this is nepotism. Second, he wants to have affirmative action programs based on income instead of race because, for him, income is the “ultimate determiner of need.” While I do think that socioeconomic status plays a pressing role in where someone will go to school, doesn’t this alternative still give preference to a certain group of students? Is it any better to give preferences to students in low-income families than it is to give preferences on the basis of race? What if this policy stigmatizes low-income families? Should we be rid of need-blind admissions policies? It seems that there is no simple solution to this problem. If we don’t have preferences of one kind, we often have preferences of another.