As the Supreme Court considers whether affirmative action is legal, it may be a good time to ask if it’s working as intended.
Indiana University Maurer School of Law professor Kevin Brown supports considering race as a factor in admissions but says there is a problem in how affirmative action is implemented.
Colleges are giving fewer and fewer spots to “the traditional African-American” students with two black parents, whose ancestors endured discrimination, while giving more spots to black immigrants, Brown told Business Insider.
Black immigrants, who started coming to the U.S. in larger numbers after the 1970s, tend to have higher incomes that non-immigrant blacks, which leads to stronger college applications. Now there’s a disproportionately high number of black immigrants at elite colleges. One study found 40% of the black freshman at Ivy League institutions were immigrants even though that population only accounted for 18% of black 18- and 19-year-olds in the U.S.
Brown says colleges should make a special effort to include “traditional African Americans” as well as immigrants.
“Traditional African-Americans … clearly have a far greater claim to being members of a group that has suffered from the history of discrimination based on race and ethnicity,” Brown wrote in a 2011 article in the Michigan School of Law.
The main goals of affirmative action are to compensate for past discrimination and to bring different perspectives to college campuses. While giving preference to black immigrants accomplishes the second goal, some argue it doesn’t necessarily accomplish the first goal.
Other black scholars have also brought up the touchy issue of who’s benefitting from affirmative action. At a reunion of Harvard’s black alumni in 2004, the noted Harvard professors Lani Guinier and Henry Louis Gates Jr. pointed out that roughly two-thirds of Harvard’s black undergrads at the time were immigrants or their children, or children of interracial couples.
Here’s how The New York Times summed up their concerns:
What concerned the two professors, they said, was that in the high-stakes world of admissions to the most selective colleges — and with it, entry into the country’s inner circles of power, wealth and influence — African-American students whose families have been in America for generations were being left behind.
If the Supreme Court allows universities to continue using applicants’ race as a “plus factor” in admissions, it will be up to the colleges themselves to make sure “traditional” African-Americans don’t get “left behind.”
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