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By Sydney McArthur

Junior, GWU

The United States is a nation that has oppressed and continues to oppress certain communities through slavery, systemic racism, and other forms of discrimination. Therefore, affirmative action remains a significant reparative backbone for marginalized individuals who have endured, and continue to endure, such harm. A severe deficit of social mobility and representation exists for Black, Indigenous, and other people of color. Affirmative action serves as a policy attempt to repair the inequalities resulting from systemic racism and discrimination. It is necessary to acknowledge that affirmative action is effective in combating racial inequalities.


Although the concept of affirmative action may seem abstract, this policy has tangible benefits for underserved individuals. Affirmative action’s consideration for diversity doubled the Latinx and Asian American/Pacific Islander share of total college enrollment in just 32 years. Additionally, the share of total college enrollment increased by 39% for Black students and 46% for Indigenous students within the same time. The Review of Economics and Statistics also notes that educational institutions that implement affirmative action practices witness an increase in the years of education attained by minority students. Not only does affirmative action increase representation in higher education, but also in the employment market. The US Department of Labor mandates that federal contractors and subcontractors promote equal representation through recruitment efforts and training. Currently, the rate of diversification has increased in the United States due to affirmative action policies.  Within six years of affirmative action’s implementation, Black male representation rose by 0.9% in the federally-contracted labor market as opposed to only a 0.6% increase in labor markets without contractors. Any reversal or absence of affirmative action policies could hinder these efforts. For example, the percentage of Black students in the undergraduate program of UC Berkeley in 2017 was half of what it was in the 1990s — a consequence of removing affirmative action in the state of California. Evidently, affirmative action provides marginalized groups with more opportunities within higher education and the labor market. 


Affirmative action not only makes employment and educational opportunities available but also combats even larger inequalities by improving the overall workplace and educational environments for marginalized groups. Millions of educational institutions and employers now put diversity and equity at the forefront of their vision, creating a more representative, multi-dimensional atmosphere that all individuals can benefit from. The Century Foundation’s compilation of data on integration illustrates that diverse educational settings help diminish racial and identity bias, decrease the dropout rate for students of color, and provide educational resource accessibility to underserved students. The impact of affirmative action is holistic, setting forth a comprehensive and inclusive approach to education and work. 


Since their inception, affirmative action programs have garnered opposition and generated misconceptions. While many conservatives and centrists contend that affirmative action is overcompensating and unfair, it is important to note that even with affirmative action, minority groups still are underrepresented in both higher education and employment. A New York Times analysis showed that although affirmative action helps reduce the disparity, it still persists; especially within more elite and selective universities, Black and Hispanic students still have not “gained ground” in enrollment representation. Acknowledging the continued existence of educational and employment inequality is imperative in order to debunk harmful myths surrounding affirmative action. Some who oppose affirmative action recommend a method that only considers the income of applicants rather than their identity, which has proven to be inadequate. Studies show that only reviewing income in the admissions process does not compensate for the unequal educational and social experiences among minority students. Neglecting societal marginalization excludes important factors such as trauma and harassment that impact marginalized students’ academic performance at every income level. Consequently, affirmative action fills this gap by implementing comprehensive assessment during admission and hiring processes. 


Affirmative action is beyond a so-called “special consideration” for certain students or applicants. It is an ethical policy to provide underrepresented populations with the same opportunities that others possess. A nation that deprives the marginalized must make amends by providing for and supporting the marginalized.



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