Affirmative action: Dissecting rhetoric from reality

MARC H. MORIAL | 8/21/2017, 11:23 a.m.
“You do not wipe away the scars of centuries by saying: Now you are free to go where you want, ...

There are a lot of myths out there about affirmative action. The most prevalent one – the one that fires up the aggrieved Trump base – is that hordes of Black and Brown applicants are taking away opportunities rightfully earned by better-qualified White applicants. The truth is, according to the latest data, the primary beneficiaries of affirmative action have been White women. And though the administration insists it is motivated by a sense of fairness, no attention is being paid to the growing advantage socioeconomic and legacy status play in college admissions.

Like race or gender, many selective universities consider an applicant’s legacy status as a factor in the admissions process, which puts students from marginalized, low-income and underrepresented communities at a distinct disadvantage. A 2011 Chronicle of Higher Education study found that a legacy connection gave an applicant a 23.3 percentage point advantage over a non-legacy applicant. And applicants whose parent attended the school gained an average advantage close to 50 percentage points.

That our universities and workplaces review candidates through a race- and/or gender-conscious lens is an acknowledgement of the outsized role racism and sexism currently plays and has historically played in our nation’s history. The Supreme Court has ruled – time and again – that schools, in particular, have the right and “compelling interest” to use race in a limited way to achieve a diverse student body. The goal is not to disadvantage any group, but to recognize and attempt to remedy centuries of injustice.

The National Urban League unequivocally condemns any effort by the Department of Justice to undermine the still necessary role of affirmative action in college admissions, taking us back to a time when African Americans, women and other marginalized groups did not have equal and fair access to higher education or employment.

I look forward to the day when a man or woman will neither be preferred nor penalized based on gender, color or socioeconomic class. Perhaps affirmative action, as a lasting solution, is complex and imperfect, but so is the nation we call home.

Marc H. Morial is the president/CEO of the National Urban League. He can be reached through http://nul.iamempowered.com.