Affirmative action is the practice, usually by institutions, of giving preference to racial minorities or women when hiring employees, giving awards, or deciding whom to admit. Affirmative action arose out of a desire to bring minority groups into institutions and professions that had traditionally been dominated by white males. It first appeared after the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s. One of the largest groups that use affirmative action today is universities during the admissions process. Racial quotas for public colleges were declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in the case of Bakke v. California. Since then, colleges that wanted to increase diversity have used other types of affirmative action. While private universities have usually had more freedom in their admissions decisions, they have found that other affirmative action policies are a better way of achieving diversity than quotas because they allow for greater flexibility and more fairness.
Affirmative action in the college admissions process has been primarily an ethical rather than a legal issue. As long as the decision process did not use racial quotas, colleges were allowed to choose to accept whomever they wanted. This is changing, however. California’s Proposition 209 prohibits any use of racial preferences in government hiring and public school admissions. More than a dozen states are considering similar legislation. Even though the question is an ethical one, most of the disagreement is over whether or not affirmative action increases fairness in the admissions process. In addition, the debate over affirmative action is about what role diversity in the student body plays in both the academic mission of a university and in the quality of life on campus.
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Those against affirmative action often say that it makes it easier for members of some groups to get into college and harder for others. However, the purpose of affirmative action is to increase the admissions rates of minorities that are under-represented in colleges. This under-representation is caused by various social factors. One social factor is that students from families where few people have pursued higher education are less likely to excel in high school. Another factor is that children who come from communities where English has not regularly spoken face a large disadvantage in reading and writing. Lastly, students from school districts with lower funding tend to perform poorly on standardized tests. Affirmative action is not meant to make it easy for students from a disadvantaged background to get into college, but it is there to try and make up for some of the difficulties.
A lot of the learning done at colleges comes from things other than textbooks and classes. A large part of college is the social life that each student leads, but only if the student body contains representatives of a wide range of backgrounds. Colleges go out of their way to make sure that their student bodies contain athletes, political activists, and musicians so that each student brings something different to the college community. Affirmative action attempts to assure that members of all ethnic groups are present within a college. Even though affirmative action lowers admission standards for certain minorities, its purpose is to make up for academic disadvantages faced by certain minority groups. Individuals who benefit from affirmative action must achieve academic success within their own group. Affirmative action, therefore, creates a diverse student body that has great academic potential.
There are several factors that a college takes into account when considering applicants. Some examples of these are grades, test scores, and extra-curricular activities. However, an applicant’s race may not be a legitimate factor to take into consideration because it is outside of the student’s control. It is impossible for a college to consider every aspect of a student’s background when making admissions decisions. An important question that is often considered is, “Why to focus on race in particular, as opposed to the thousands of other aspects that differentiate students from one another?” Another argument on the con side is that diversity of opinion is what is important in an academic community, not racial diversity.
Affirmative action provides an advantage to some people because of the color of their skin, which is an attribute not relevant to the academic mission of a college. There are many factors that make up a student’s perspective, but affirmative action gives preferential treatment based exclusively on race, which is a purely external characteristic. In many cases, affirmative action has not achieved its goal of helping disadvantaged minority groups. Instead, it brings about socioeconomic inequalities by making it easier for members of specific racial minorities from privileged backgrounds to get into prestigious colleges while not helping members of the lower classes.