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By Aysha Khan

Junior, Hunter

Although affirmative action accomplishes the goal of increasing diversity in higher education and creating more tolerant communities, it burdens students who are not prepared for the rigorous and fast-paced nature of certain elite schools. This can cause imposter syndrome, and ultimately lead some students to abandon their studies. Promoting diversity is essential to creating a culturally aware society, but it should not occur at the expense of students’ academic performance. 


Affirmative action ensures that students are exposed to diversity. According to the Center for American Progress, affirmative action helps students to rid themselves of racial biases by introducing them to a wide range of cultures and lifestyles. It is important that affirmative action exposes students to diversity because many white students live in racially and socioeconomically homogenous communities. For example, a study conducted by the research group Brookings revealed that a metropolitan area in 2018 had a majority white population of 71%followed by only a 12% Latino and 8% Black population. The demographics demonstrate that prior to college, many white students are unable to interact with people from different ethnic and racial backgrounds, resulting in a lack of cultural competence. Therefore, the creation of diverse classrooms due to the implementation of affirmative action allows for a plurality of opinions, encouraging students to be more perceptive and tolerant. This benefits all students by preparing them to work with many different people in our increasingly diverse society and global economy. 


Minority students start at a disadvantage when it comes to access to resources. According to the United Fund, in 2012, only 57% of Black students had access to college readiness mathematics and science courses whereas 71% of White students had them. These statistics show how our current system has failed students of color by not allowing them access to the resources they need for academic success. Affirmative action gives Black and Hispanic students a chance to obtain a college education that they would not have otherwise been able to access, equalizing the playing field. 


When some students are accepted into elite institutions as a result of affirmative action rather than merit, they become overwhelmed with the workload and expectations, receiving poor grades, and struggling to graduate on time. Affirmative action was used at the University of Washington and the graduation statistics showed that 70% of whites and 65% of Asians graduated within six years whereas only 29% of African Americans graduated in that same timeframe. This demonstrates that students who were accepted based on affirmative action experienced more difficulties in effectively completing their coursework in time for graduation.  Moreover, a study conducted at a top law school revealed that more than 50 percent of the Black law students were at the bottom 10 percent of their class, and that the dropout rate for Black students was 19.3%. This was more than twice that of their White peers who had a dropout of 8.2%. This study demonstrates that students who are granted admission to prestigious colleges due to affirmative action may struggle to maintain good grades because they are unprepared for the difficulty of their courses. As a result, they could lose confidence in their abilities and oftentimes drop out. 


Some minority students who are accepted to less elite schools based on merit are better able to keep up with expectations and are more likely to succeed, causing them to actually enjoy their studies, and pursue careers in academia. When California abandoned affirmative action in the 1990s, the graduation rate of students who are minorities rose. Under merit-based acceptances, the dropout rate for Black and Native American students dropped to 6%, and 50% more Black and Hispanic students were able to graduate with STEM degrees. When some students gain acceptance to universities based on merit, they are more likely to succeed. As such, they are likely to achieve higher grades, less likely to drop out, and more likely to successfully obtain degrees. 


While it’s commendable that affirmative action was introduced to ensure that everyone has an equal opportunity to succeed — and it may uplift minorities and decrease prejudice against them— it also harms students who are not prepared to manage the expectations of elite institutions. 

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