Take Alternative Action

Yesterday the Supreme Court upheld a Michigan constitutional amendment that bans race-conscious admissions decisions in the state. A fractured and controversial decision, the Supreme Court’s action has, by association, endorsed similar affirmative action bans in seven other states, which sends America’s minority populations a definitive and upsetting message: the protection of minority groups is not a high priority for our justices.

On face value, this decision is a travesty—our Supreme Court is failing a traditionally underprivileged population and predominantly white, affluent students will continue to dominate the higher education system. In the 16 years since California passed its affirmative action ban, Berkeley’s Hispanic student population has dropped by 38 percent and the number of black students at the school has dwindled from a mere 9 percent of the student body to a shocking 2 percent. But the possible impact of this decision is more than skin deep—hopefully, it will spark the creation of an improved system. The problem with race-conscious admissions decisions is that they are oftentimes made for the benefit of the university, not the student for whom the program was originally intended—having a diverse student population makes a university more marketable. This strategy can, and has, reduced many a deserving minority student to nothing more than a marketing ploy.

However this decision may force the nation to come up with better-intentioned alternatives.

States should be working to devise new programs that approach affirmative action not from a racial lens, but a socioeconomic one. Such an approach would still support minority populations—the discouraging reality is that the vast majority of Americans living in impoverished areas are minorities—and ensure that underprivileged students are given the support they need despite these bans. It would also bring affirmative action back to its intended purpose: to help those whose opportunities are limited, not universities who want to up their
marketing game.