The term affirmative action was first used by President John Kennedy in 1961 when he coined the term “to ensure that applicants are employed, and employees are treated during employment, without regard to their race, creed, color, or national origin.” It has since become the center of political discourse, a Supreme Court case, and cause for plummeting approval rates.
Unfortunately, the misconception that the bar for admission to colleges for minority students is lowered so they can pass over it creates a poor reputation to affirmative action. While the policy may seem that it gives an edge to minority groups during the college admissions process, it often earns disapproval from those who believe minorities undeservingly receive an opportunity due to their race. This can create a sense of dissatisfaction within minority groups.
Having said that, we still need affirmative action. But in order for affirmative action to succeed in promoting the integration of minorities, the stigma surrounding it must change. This can be seen through both the shift in educational expectations through the National Hispanic Merit Scholar standard versus regular National Merit Scholar standard, and in the Florida State Board of Education. In 2012, the Board faced backlash for establishing its 2017-2018 school year goals to have 88 percent of white students reside at or higher than their grade-level benchmark, but only 81 percent of Latinos and a mere 74 percent for blacks. The board then released data showing that while 69 percent of white students met the criterion for their reading benchmark, only 53 percent of Latinos and barely 38 percent of black students did. The shocking numbers go far beyond Ivy League acceptances and job applications in revealing that even in one of the most prosperous countries in the world, there is still a gap in literacy rates among racial groups.
In 2008, Abigail Fisher was rejected from the University of Texas at Austin, and then sued the school alleging that she had been discriminated against for her race, as minority students with lower grades than she were admitted in her place. In the year Fisher applied to UT Austin, the university admitted 92 percent of students based on “the top ten percent” system. This system ensured the top ten percent of students at every state high school a spot at UT Austin. The rest of the class was accepted based on extracurriculars, school involvement, and race (among other things).
While Fisher was not in the top ten percent of her class, she did have better credentials than 47 other students who were accepted into the class based on their extracurriculars. Fisher, being a legacy student, concluded her rejection from the university had been prompted by race.
However, of the 47 students who were accepted and not in the ten percent of their class, only five of them were a minority. In addition 168 black and Hispanic students who had similar or better grades than Fisher, were also rejected from the university.
In the end, the Supreme Court ended up ruling that colleges may continue using race as a factor in the admissions process in order to guarantee diversity among the incoming class. Although the long term effects of affirmative action are yet to be revealed, Fisher’s case played a crucial role in the future of educational diversity.