Garrison Murphy ’15
It was in the spring of 1961 when the words “affirmative action” were first publicly strung together on President John F. Kennedy’s Executive Order 10925.
Fifty-three years and eight separate federal “affirmative action” bills later the status of the innovative bill and its successors remain controversial.
While effective at providing a more integrated classroom environment and providing opportunities for students who otherwise would not have them, affirmative action policies have many flaws and need to be revisited.
“It’s pretty important,” said Gus Laurin ’15. “It affects a lot of people, especially students.”
The initial order, an effort to create equality in the workforce, stated that employers are to “take affirmative action to ensure that applicants are employed, and that employees are treated equally during employment, without regard to their race, creed, color, or national origin.”
After multiple revisions and related autonomous bills building on top of President Kennedy’s, the highly debated and vexed issue eventually hit the classroom in 1964 as a part of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s Civil Rights Act.
Today, the effects induced by these legislative acts are being felt by students of all racial and ethnic background across the country.
For many non-minority students there is a feeling of discontent and frustration regarding the current policies on race within educational institutions.
“I think it’s racist, it favors people based on their race … I don’t see why you could favor people over other groups of people if someone is more qualified and you don’t accept them just because of race; that’s racial inequality,” said Andrew Webb ’15.
According to the Thomas J. Espenshade and Alexandria Walton Radford’s 2009 book “No Longer Separate, Not Yet Equal: Race and Class in Elite College Admission and Campus Life,” a black student with a similar application to a white student applying to the same university receives equal to a 310 point SAT boost just for being a certain ethnicity.
While many students may feel that quotas are unfair or racist, some of those who are affected positively believe that what they are experiencing is an act of penance for the centuries of unjust or cruel treatment implemented on them.
“When people refer to it as reverse racism, it is kind of weird because it was over a hundred years that blacks and other races were persecuted, and I guess it’s kind of a way to make up for it,” said Isaiah Williams ’15, a member of the Black Student Union. “In my case it’s positive for me, but I can see why white people wouldn’t be in favor of it because it goes against them in some cases.”
The predicament is very similar to driving around a bend on an icy road; the worst thing to do is overcorrect or slam on the breaks and possibly lose grip or veer off the paved road. The best thing to do is keep the wheel firm and slowly ease off the gas. In this case the driver being legislature, the car being affirmative action policies and the icy road signifies the amount of racial tension and inequality present in our society.
In 1961 the road was frozen over.
What about in 2014?
“The initial intentions might have been good, but the outcome would be contrary to the intentions,” said David Hall ’15. “It’s bad because now someone could consider you a racist if you aren’t a supporter.”
It’s true; affirmative action policies do their job of creating diversity and keeping minorities in the big picture despite economic inequalities, but in this day and age is the Federal Government’s involvement still necessary?
A cursory glance at minority related statistics gathered by the U.S census bureau reveals data that is strikingly grim. The median household income gap between white families and black families is large enough to purchase a 2013 Chevy Camaro and it hasn’t narrowed in the last 50 years.
According to a 2012 “Kids Count” poll, black children are 33 percent more likely to live in an impoverished are then white children, and if income gap statistics and poverty rates seem redundant from yesteryear’s summit, consider that on average, our schools today are more segregated than in 1980.
So the Federal government may actually be doing the right thing in stepping in on this issue. But affirmative action policies have been in effect since March of 1961, and there haven’t been any significant shifts in demographics since the early 1980s. Using the fact that this same issue has been stagnant for the past 30 years as evidence, the system is inherently ineffective.
Instead of using quotas to incentivize diversity at educational facilities and workplaces, the legislature should focus more on the root of the problem – home life and early education.
The road is still extremely icy but slowly thawing. Instead of overcorrecting in different directions it’s time for current politicians pull over to the side of the road and put on a set of snow tires before continuing on.