This article is part two of a series in celebration of a new, dynamic voice in Black America: the NUBIANO Exchange. Brace yourself for the NUBIANO experience.
by Seke Ballard
At its core, affirmative action is, in fact, a discriminatory practice because it rewards and punishes people based on characteristics over which neither party has control, in this case, biological. If the reader accepts the past assertion as true, why and how has affirmative action remained in use? Toward answering this question, let’s analyze a number of other characteristics that are not controlled by the person, but nevertheless receive favorable attention by university admissions officers.
Legacy, for example, is a widespread, but somewhat covert practice at universities across the country whereby children of alumni, in the event that they are borderline accept/reject candidates, receive an advantage over the candidates who aren’t children of alumni. According to a study conducted at Stanford University, Harvard’s admit rates for legacy students in 2003 was 40% compared to the 11% acceptance rate for the broader student body. Further, legacy students at Harvard score, on average, 35 points less than their more qualified counterparts in the general student body. Such statistics aren’t restricted to Harvard as comparable figures exist for all of the most selective universities in the country for legacy candidates as well as candidates who are children of large donors.
This article doesn’t aim to suggest that because the benefits to children of alumni and large donors remain, so too should affirmative action. Further, to be clear, this article makes no attempt to reconcile its legality, but rather, to attract attention to some underlying cultural mechanisms that may help to explain its use. There is an interesting disparity between the fact that affirmative action has received such vigorous opposition while legacy and donor benefits, which are fundamentally the same processes, have been used in America since Harvard’s founding - being left largely (and legally) unquestioned for centuries. The implications that this disparity has for American culture does well to shed light on the “why and how” for affirmative action.