Across the Aisle: Affirmative action


Sam Topp

I’m lucky to have been given the life I’ve had.

I was born into a caring family and had good public schooling. I’m a straight, white male. It can be easy to forget racial and social issues exist for others but don’t personally affect me on an everyday basis.

Groups that are historically discriminated against have spent a large portion of their history dealing with issues that I did not. In the U.S., these groups saw an attempt at bringing a fairer system into education and hiring processes: affirmative action.

Affirmative action is a category of policies that favor members of disadvantaged groups who suffer, or have suffered from, discrimination within a culture. These policies aim to bridge inequalities between groups to create a more balanced society.

However, Manny, my friend and conservative counterpart, says the implementation of affirmative action policies might have created a new problem.

“Affirmative action is actually reverse discrimination,” Manny said. “Under affirmative action, certain ethnic groups may be given special advantages over others in regards to college admissions or employment.”

Manny said implying certain groups need any kind of artificial intervention can be insulting to a specific person, devaluing their academic and professional achievement.

I agree with Manny in that affirmative action has the potential to devalue someone’s accomplishments on their own personal level, but I don’t think my experiences leave me in the position to say anything for sure.

Manny also explained disdain for affirmative action through the lens of Asian-Americans during college admissions, so I’d like to explain why I believe the process is fair for all groups involved.

“Asian-Americans are a group that have been historically discriminated against,” Manny said. “However, due to high collective achievement, they are heavily penalized during college admissions. In fact, studies have shown that Asian Americans are penalized 50 points on the SAT compared to white applicants.”

I immediately questioned the validity of Manny’s statement, but it is actually true. When students enter the college admission process, admissions deans treat the different scores with different weights depending on an applicant’s racial background.

College admission processes are the key difference. A study of holistic admissions processes from elite schools showed that besides academics, 42 percent of the consideration process focuses on students from under-represented groups while another 42 percent focuses on students displaying exceptional talents.

Manny said admissions processes might lead people to think affirmative action is the same thing as equal opportunity.

“Many people use affirmative action and equal opportunity synonymously,” Manny said. “I continue to assert that affirmative action stands against the principles of equal opportunity. Equal opportunity is where each applicant is considered solely based on his or her merit.”

On a purely academic level, Asian-Americans could be seen as discriminated against during these processes. However, the reality of college admissions is that they don’t measure students against each other on academic merit alone.

An article from Forbes uses the term “student’s tag” to explain the discrepancy in college admissions. A student’s tag assigns them to a target group during the admissions process such as their race or extracurricular background. Target groups are kept separate from each other during the admissions process to keep the institution’s desired class demographic consistent.

This means an Asian-American student will likely be competing against other Asian-American students within their target groups, not with students of other races. Colleges don’t discriminate against any specific group by keeping admits separated between races, but eliminate race as a deciding factor altogether by separating them.

Manny asked me if I think equal opportunity is the same thing as equal outcome, and I believe it is not. Colleges using target groups to fairly admit students according to their own target demographics gives every student the opportunity to compete within their respective groups. If they’re admitted, they have the same resources and programs available at school.

Failure for one student to use these resources while another one does, however, should not lead to equal outcome. Equal outcome isn’t something that can be guaranteed on a racial basis. This is true in the same way two white students in the same engineering program shouldn’t be guaranteed equal outcome when one performs better than the other.

On the surface, college admissions processes and affirmative action as a whole might be viewed as discriminatory or personally devaluing.

But on a deeper level, both practices only strive to promote diversity to establish more inclusive campuses for people of all races.

Sam Topp, ’18, is an associate news editor for The Brown and White. He can be reached at [email protected]

Comment policy

Comments posted to The Brown and White website are reviewed by a moderator before being approved. Incendiary speech or harassing language, including comments targeted at individuals, may be deemed unacceptable and not published. Spam and other soliciting will also be declined.

The Brown and White also reserves the right to not publish entirely anonymous comments.


  1. If you want to give extra consideration to people because of their disadvantaged background, fine — but don’t use race as a proxy for disadvantage. There are plenty of blacks and Latinos who are NOT disadvantaged; in fact, 86 percent of African Americans admitted to the more selective schools come from middle- or upper-class backgrounds. And of course there are plenty of whites and Asians who DO come from disadvantaged backgrounds.

  2. Emmanuel Lai on

    I was the conservative counterpart in this article. While affirmative action strives towards a more inclusive campus, it does so as the cost of inequity. A system of practices is not legitimate just because it is utilized with good intentions. Admissions processes that penalize a minority group are not inclusive. Like my friend Sam, I too grew up in family that valued education. However, affirmative action acts as if all whites and Asians were born into our favorable conditions, which is certainly not true.

    As a conservative, I believe racial discrimination is not a fair price to pay for a more diverse campus. And that is exactly what affirmative action is: racial discrimination with positive intentions. Ultimately, the argument is whether or not it is okay to discriminate against certain groups to create a desired campus demographic. One of the common themes between the whole conservative versus liberal schism is the rights of the individual versus the costs and benefits to society. This is a topic I wish to explore in a future article that I am going to write.

    It has been a pleasure helping out with these “Across the Aisle” articles. While we may have differing views on certain topics, I am very proud to call Sam a friend of mine, and am impressed by the quality of his writing. Though such dialogue may be uncomfortable, I believe that discussing these issues with others who hold differing views can be extremely educational.

  3. Title VI exists to prevent discrimination “on the ground of race, color, or national origin” at any college that receives public money. Why should that not apply to the racial discrimination against Asians in which it is statistically proven that the admissions process is biased against Asians and biased in favour of blacks and hispanics. Being black is worth 230 extra SAT points (on a 1600-point scale), and being
    Hispanic is worth an additional 185 SAT points. (according to Admission Preferences for Minority
    Students, Athletes, and Legacies at Elite Universities by Princeton researchers Espenshade, Chung, and Walling 2004). If there was statistical evidence showing that being white was worth an extra 100 points on the SAT can you imagine the outrage from the Social Justice supporters with their talk of ‘white privilege.’ Imagine if, instead of Asians losing 50 points, blacks lost 50 points just for being black. Imagine the outrage. The Social Justice supporters will say this is perfectly fine because of slavery and historic segregation of blacks. But, historically, what have Asians done so wrong to America that they deserve to be discriminated against? They will have no answers. The hypocrisy of the Social Justice supporters who become outraged over discrimination against blacks or illegal immigrants or hispanics, but not against discrimination of equally innocent and politically marginalized group (Asians) discredits their values and worldview.

    • Robert Davenport on

      You use the tools that will allow you to progress your agenda. This may be appropriate or not on a case by case basis.

  4. Robert Davenport on

    Lehigh’s Mission Statement (LMS) reads in part: Respect for human dignity is very important at Lehigh, a caring community deeply committed to harmonious cultural diversity as an essential element of the learning environment. In order that all members of the Lehigh community might develop as effective and enlightened citizens, the University encourages physical, social, ethical, and spiritual development as well as rigorous intellectual development.

    I did not notice any specific item in the LMS relating to the admissions process and target groups. I would think there would be a course to be taken by everyone that would promote the development of “effective and enlightened citizens”. It seems that there are many programs that encourage this development. The several Greek probations would indicate that there are some that don’t get the message.

    You pay a high price, getting 5% higher, for the intellectual development. Respect for human dignity may be more important in the long run. If it doesn’t exist in a student, not the case for the “co-authors” of this article, it needs to be created. Lehigh does not need notorious graduates.

Leave A Reply