Affirmative Action 1 Running Head: AFFIRMATIVE ACTION

Affirmative Action as a Means to Racial Diversity Brad Miller The George Washington University EDUC 283/Opinion Paper 3

Affirmative Action 2 Affirmative Action as a Means to Racial Diversity On November 7th, 2006 residents of Michigan voted in support of Proposal 2, an amendment to ban the use of affirmative action as a way to promote diversity. This comes after the 2003 Supreme Court case which granted universities the right to use race as a factor in the admissions decision (Schmidt 2006). It is my belief that universities have an obligation to use affirmative action as a way to promote diversity. In this paper I will share why universities are obligated to use affirmative action to increase minority student enrollment. A diverse college campus improves the level of education that students receive. I will share how colleges are obligated to create a diverse student body to reflect the world students will encounter after graduation. The United States has a diverse population of various ethnicities, religions and socioeconomic backgrounds. College campuses seldom reflect this great diversity as universities become out of reach for minority students (Fischer 2006). While the over all population of minority students in higher education has improved, it remains significantly lower than the number of white students (Porter 2006). One method of increasing diversity within higher education is to include affirmative action in admissions related decisions. Using affirmative action gives race added importance when considering applicants, thereby making diversity a top priority and increasing minority enrollment. Affirmative action ensures that underrepresented populations will be given equal consideration, something society often neglects to offer them. Higher education is obligated to use affirmative action because of the educational benefits that come with increased diversity. Promoting diversity within higher education creates an effective learning environment (Alger 2005). Part of the reason for the

Affirmative Action 3 Supreme Court’s 2003 ruling was their understanding of the educational benefit of a diverse student body both in and out of the classroom (Alger 2005). Students in a diverse classroom are often hesitant to voice their stereotypes about others. Instead of saying the first thought that comes to mind, students in a diverse class setting first give adequate reflection to their statements. This improves class discussions and promotes an effective learning environment (Tarbox 2000). Racial diversity often brings with it diversity in thoughts, opinions and life experiences. These attributes can translate to more effective conversations within the classroom and life changing friendships in the dormitory. By increasing diversity, colleges are able to improve the level of education. Many students enroll in college from segregated high schools, limiting their interactions with racial diversity (Tatum 2003). Because of the lack of inter-racial encounters at the high school level, students form inaccurate stereotypes about different races. Often, just by interacting with someone of a different race, students are able to break down their prejudices. The college experience has the potential for students to live and learn with other races with whom they would not normally interact. If colleges do not create a diverse environment for students to learn about other races they fail at their responsibility to educate students to live in a diverse world (Tatum 2004). By creating a diverse student body through affirmative action, colleges provide the environment to challenge prejudice, bigotry and racial ignorance. Ethnic minorities are underrepresented in college student enrollment numbers. For example, only 7 percent of Latino students are enrolled in four year colleges while at the same time Latinos represent the United States’ largest and fastest growing group of ethnic minorities (Stavans 2006). If colleges seek to prepare students for future careers

Affirmative Action 4 they must create an environment that reflects the realities of our diverse country. A diverse student body can help students understand how to live, work and exist in a diverse world (Alger 2005). Students that study on a homogeneous campus sometimes struggle to understand their future diverse places of employment. Thus, colleges have an obligation to provide a diverse student body to ensure graduates are adequately prepared for future encounters with diversity. For the reasons I have mentioned, racial diversity on the college campus is important. Diversity in education has had ongoing conversations through the years, some of which led Supreme Court cases. In the 1954 case, Brown vs. the Board of Education, the court stated that public schools could not be racially segregated and every student, regardless of race, had the right to attend the public school of their choice (Brown et al. 1954). Twenty four years later, in Regents of the University of California vs. Bakke, the court confirmed that while colleges could not have a quota of how many minorities to admit, they could give added consideration to race in the admittance decision (Schmidt 2006). Finally, in 2003, the Supreme Court upheld that colleges could use race in the admittance decision as long as each applicant was given equal consideration (Selingo 2005). As part of their statement in the 2003 case, the Supreme Court admitted that inequality still exists within higher education (Selingo 2005). My hope is that if we use affirmative action now, it will no longer be necessary in the future as all populations will be given equal consideration. When the residents of Michigan voted to ban the use of affirmative action on November 7th, 2006, they forced higher education to take a step back in the quest for equality.

Affirmative Action 5 In conclusion, it is my belief that higher education has an obligation to use affirmative action as a means to promoting diversity. College enrollments seldom mirror the diverse citizens that make up the American population. By using affirmative action, added importance is given to promoting diversity. When diversity is promoted the level of education improves and students are better prepared to function in a diverse workplace. The journey toward educational access will not be complete until every member of the population is given equal consideration. Affirmative action is a means toward that equality.

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Affirmative Action 6 References Alger, Jonathan, (2005). Putting Michigan into practice [Electronic Version]. The chronicle of higher education, 51, B28. Brown et al. v. board of education of Topeka, Kansas, et al., 347 U.S. 483 (1954). Fischer, Karin, (2006). Flagship universities short on minority and low-income students, report says [Electronic Version]. The chronicle of higher education, 53, A18. Porter, Jane, (2006). Minority-student enrollment climbs [Electronic Version]. The chronicle of higher education, 12, A39. Schmidt, Peter, (2006). After supreme court rulings on race: silence [Electronic Version]. The chronicle of higher education, 37, A21. Schmidt, Peter, (2006). College groups urge justices to uphold school admissions based on race [Electronic Version]. The chronicle of higher education, 9, A34. Selingo, Jeffrey, (2005). Michigan, who really won? [Electronic Version]. The chronicle of higher education, 19, A21. Stavans, Ilan, (2006). How elite universities fail latino students [Electronic Version]. The chronicle of higher education, 20, B20. Tarbox, Gwen Athene, (2000, August 11). Will diversity improve education or ‘dumb’ colleges down instead? [Letter to the editor]. The chronicle of higher education, p. B3. Tatum, Beverly Ann, (2004). Building a road to diversity [Electronic Version]. The chronicle of higher education, 30, B6.