Michigan became the fifth state to ban affirmative action in higher education last Tuesday. The Supreme Court voted 6-2 to uphold an amendment to the Michigan state constitution that will ban affirmative action in admissions to public universities in Michigan. According to the New York Times article “Court Backs Michigan on Affirmative Action,” states that already have a ban on affirmative action, such as California and Florida, have experienced a significant drop in the enrollment of minorities in their public universities. With this decision, the U.S. Supreme Court has taken a step that will disempower minorities and increase inequalities. Affirmative action is a policy used to improve the educational and employment opportunities of groups that are disadvantaged by systematic discrimination.
Affirmative action is a necessary mechanism that does not advantage certain races at the expense of others, but rather creates a more level playing field. At Wellesley, we are fortunate to be part of a higher education institution that endorses affirmative action and in doing so, promotes a more diverse student body and contributes in a constructive way to a more equal society.
The most common argument made against affirmative action is that it is inherently discriminatory because affirmative action allows institutions to accept or reject students on the basis of race. In banning affirmative action, the argument states the court is banning discrimination on the basis of race. However, as Justice Sonia Sotomayor asserts in her dissent to the decision, “The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to speak openly and candidly on the subject of race, and to apply the Constitution with eyes open to the unfortunate effects of centuries of racial discrimination.”
Sotomayor, one of the two Justices who voted against the amendment, is the court’s first Hispanic justice. She is an embodiment of the importance of ensuring that minorities reach positions of power. Sotomayor is not only a source of support for minorities but also a role model, a figure who can inspire minorities to strive for positions of power.
Unfortunately, we live in a time where zipcodes and race play a role in determining experiences. On many college campuses, minority students are working toward increasing their presence on campus. For example, university students this semester have witnessed Harvard University’s “I Too, Am Harvard” and Princeton University’s “I Too, Am Princeton” campaigns. These movements consist of photographs in which minority students hold up whiteboards with a variety of messages to speak back to their communities and address the discrimination that they face on campus. Both campaigns remind us of the urgency of constructively addressing the rampant discrimination that is present on college campuses, not to mention in the country. Moreover, they delineate the need to have diversity on campus and also to embrace it. It is unfortunate that college communities need pictures and testimonials to come to the obvious conclusion that racism is rampant and harmful. One statement that stands out in the Latin@ poster campaign at Wellesley reads, “You’re so lucky. You can get into any college you want because you are Hispanic.” Undoubtedly, this statement refers to a negative perspective on affirmative action. However, given the unsatisfactory state of our society, we believe that we should work toward empowering the voices of minorities and toward equality. Measures such as the ban on affirmative action work against this empowerment by decreasing the number of minorities enrolled on campus and endorsing unequal competition. During admissions, affirmative action takes into account the background and resources of an applicant. It rejects the assumption that all individuals start their academic careers from the same place. Rather, it normalizes success, by comparing how much individuals have succeeded given the number of opportunies available to them.
The Supreme Court’s decision takes the country a step back from equality, and as more Americans voice their discontent with affirmative action, the policy’s future remains uncertain. If Wellesley reduced the presence of minority students on campus by adopting an incomprehensive admissions standard, the College would not be as diverse as it is today. We are proud to be part of an institution that recognizes the need for an equal opportunity to attend college among students of all races, and we hope that other higher education institutions preserve and promote affirmative action in admissions.