Recently, in my Public Policy course, we had an interesting discussion about the paradox behind Affirmative Action and the ways in which it helps and hurts the education system in the United States. Affirmative Action policies are efforts to actively engage and increase opportunities for populations that have been historically excluded in America. The benefits of Affirmative Action are very obvious even on the Vanderbilt campus. This policy leverages diversity and increases multicultural prospectives on our campus. Also, students of all socioeconomic backgrounds are given the opportunity to receive a Vanderbilt education.
After discussing the benefits of this policy, it was interesting to address some of the unexpected outcomes and where the paradox lies. First, it is interesting that in order to actively include populations that have been historically excluded in America, racial boundaries and distinctions are made. Rather than making college admissions officers blind to race, they are made completely aware of the applicants race and are encouraged to use it as a factor when deciding which applicants to admit. I think the affirmative action approach is very interesting. I also believe that an unintended consequence that I have recognized at Vanderbilt is that as a result of many minority groups having a strong representation, people tend to surround themselves with people who are similar to them. While this is 2017 and racial integration should occur without question, I believe this is a challenge that Vanderbilt faces on a daily basis. A second aspect of the paradox is that affirmative action reinforces stereotypes and racism because it generalizes that racial groups who have been historically excluded in America are from the lower class and have an academic disadvantage. This is a strong assumption and may negatively influence the academic performance of individuals from these racial groups at the institutions they are at, as a result of the stereotype threat. A third point, is that some people claim racial ancestry with minority groups that they actually do not identify with, simply with the purpose of increasing their chances of getting into an elite institution. Overall, Affirmative Action is a policy with great intentions and some impressive outcomes, yet there are negative outcomes of the policy that should be considered by policy makers.
I thought this conversation was important to address in light of this course because it is important to consider the implications of many of the decisions and actions that have taken place to minimize “whiteness” in America. There are often unintended consequences that are not considered and may have a negative impact on the existing racial tensions.