by: Mia Dugan
Affirmative action by definition is a set of policies and practices within a government or organization seeking to include particular groups based on their gender, race, creed or nationality in areas in which they were excluded in the past such as education and employment.While many people today believe that affirmative action programs result in the acceptance of minority students with weaker credentials over arguably more qualified white students is inherently unfair, there are established opinions supporting both sides of this policy. I will apply Stanley Fish’s notion that all issues can be viewed rhetorically to question both sides of the argument in which each defines their own beliefs of what the fair and modern standards are for admission into college. With the rhetorical mindset, two major questions arise; “Should society give a helping hand to underrepresented students in America to atone for historical injustice and or discrimination?” As well as, “Is the sacrifice of losing educational spots for highly qualified white students overall benefitting society because of the unfair disadvantage minorities experience in the application process? In other words, does society benefit by favoring the minority student with weaker qualifications that experienced difficult economic conditions and social inequities over the white candidate with the better resume?
This process is used in the college universities today so that people of all races have an opportunity of being admitted. According to 5 Reasons to Support Affirmative Action in College Admissions, “Affirmative action is one of the best tools colleges and universities have to promote diversity and and ensure that those who are otherwise shut out of the American postsecondary system have a chance to earn a quality degree” (Conner Maxwell and Sara Garcia 1). This is essentially explaining that affirmative action is needed for a fair process.
Opponents of affirmative action maintain that this system takes away the slots from the “best” candidates and instead focuses on fulfillment of diversity goals. For example, in cases mentioned in the New York Times, white people have appealed their failure to be admitted to universities of their choosing to the U.S. Supreme Court. They maintained that their qualifications were greater than the person of color who was admitted. Notably, in the Gratz v. Bollinger case, a white male and female were both denied admission to the University of Michigan. They appealed their case to the U.S. Supreme Court contending that the point based merit system used by the admissions office was unconstitutional. “Students who were part of an underrepresented minority group automatically received 20 points in a system required 100 points for admittance, which meant that nearly every applicant of an underrepresented minority group was admitted” (Margaret Kramer 1). As such, these slots were not offered to the most meritorious individuals, but rather to students selected primarily because of their minority ethnicity.
Opposers of affirmative action argue that this is an unfair advantage conferred to minorities in an effort to make up for the sins of the past. They disavow any societal need to help those that have been historically marginalized. The opponents support a system where the students with the most impressive record are admitted regardless of ethnic status.
Opponents argue further that affirmative actions result in blatantly unfair outcomes. One prime example of this would be standardized testing. With this policy intact, such results in controversial scenarios where a white student that has a perfect highschool record with an outstanding ACT or SAT score may not gain admission to a prestigious university because the slot is awarded to a minority with a weaker record. In a rhetorical sense, how is this fair to the rejected student, considering that their only drawback is the fact that they were born as a member of the white majority?
To further even more, some against this policy would argue that affirmative action is reverse discrimination. “The past discrimination against certain miniority groups does not justify present discrimination against non-minorities. All people are equal under the laws of the United States of America and should be treated accordingly.”(www.mytholyoke.edu 1) In contrast to people in favor of this policy, opposers believe that everyone modernly should be treated fairly and equally. They also believe that affirmative action highlights certain qualities that otherwise should not be considered important for the spot. “Affirmative action destroys the idea of a meritocracy and instead puts race as the dominant factor in admissions and hiring procedures. The best people for the position should be put there, regardless of race’ (www.mytholyoke.edu 1). In a sense, the reason for the implementation of affirmative action was invented purely to prevent racist authority from upholding minorities to positions. But, would preventing the best candidate for the position not go against their underlying rule that race does not or should not define whether or not you succeed? Is this not hypocritical in a sense, or is this matter entirely inevitable, considering if it was not inact, measures would be a lot worse?
On the other hand, allies of affirmative action see it as a beneficial function because it gives minorities a chance to graduate from a prestigious university and enjoy economic success that generally follows. They argue higher education is an effective tool to enable minorities to escape generational poverty. Realistically, without affirmative action, they would not have had such an opportunity to attend. They argue further that focusing on standardized test scores is unfair to minority students because the tests are written in a manner that favors white students. It is well known that affluent white families can afford expensive preparation classes and tutors. Without this policy existing, people of color would be outnumbered compared to whites as well as held at an economic disadvantage.
Affirmative action also helps increase the ratio of black to whites in college universities, which is modernly uneven. In reference to 5 Reasons to Support Affirmative Action in College Admissions, it quotes, “black students constituted 50 percent of 2016-2015 high school graduates in Mississippi, but were just 12.9 percent of University Of Mississippi graduates” (Conner Maxwell and Sara Garcia 1). This statistic shows that the numbers are significantly uneven. With affirmative action in place, these percentages increase, which overall benefits the well being of all people.
In addition to helping colored students succeed in opportunities they would not have been guaranteed as well as lifting the number of minorities, another advantage of affirmative action is that it benefits students of all races. According to 5 Reasons to Support Affirmative Action in College Admissions, “racially integrated classrooms can reduce students’ racial bias, improve satisfaction and intellectual self-confidence, and enhance leadership skills.These benefits may translate to better economic outcomes and, among other payoffs, prepare students to work in a diverse global economy, increasing the productivity, effectiveness, and creativity of teams” (Maxwell and Garcia 1). Therefore, supporters of affirmative action believe that this process not only benefits the chosen candidates, but also the members that are working with them. In order to have a successful background, people of all races and ethnicities need to be able to cooperate together, and this gives them the opportunity to.
The argument itself is a rhetorical fact of whether or not white students are at an unfair disadvantage because of affirmative action. If Stanley Fish were to apply his rhetorical thinking, the question asked would most likely be: Is the sacrifice of losing educational spots for qualified white people overall benefitting society because of the unfair disadvantage people of color were given in the first place? In other words, even though the candidate with the white background has a better resume, is it fair to begin with when the minority was not raised with the same economic status and materials needed to succeed at this advanced level?
Both sides of this argument benefit significantly from applying rhetorical ways to rethink their individual stances with more of an open mind. Although it is inevitable to reach a 100% guaranteed conclusion, redefining the instances in which the basis for the separation of sides help to form a common ground in which affirmative action can be reached.
Relating this concept to his Winning an Arguments, Stanley Fish discusses that arguments are inevitable and dependent on the context in which they are told. This is applicable to everything, including affirmative action. “Argument, the clash of opposing views, is unavoidable because the state of agreement that would render argument unnecessary–a universal agreement brought about by facts so clear that no rational being could deny them– is not something we mortals will ever achieve” (Fish 1). By tying Fish’s statement of the inevitable truth about argument, it is apparent that there will always be disagreement to each party of affirmative action.
When drawing a conclusion, it is necessary to point out that there is no “correct answer” to either side mentioned, it is merely a matter of opinion. But, if people use the rhetorical sense in a way more often as opposed to the non rhetoric thinking standards, I believe the overall outcome will prove more successful as there is common ground to share.
The need for an open mind is important when it comes to discussing any issue, for subjecting into a debate with a preconceived opinion will not benefit the person making a decision at all. By approaching the topic of affirmative action through a rhetorical sense, it helps the reader understand each side more and allows them to process more level- headedly. Stanley Fish does an excellent job demonstrating why this is necessary and how it is applicable to every conflict.
To conclude, is it right for society to provide help to minorities when it comes to college admissions? Or does it prove to be more unfair for one side over the other? Is this policy constitutional or unconstitutional? What implications can be made in order to keep both sides of the battle satisfied?
Fish, Stanley Eugene. Winning Arguments: What Works and Doesn’t Work in Politics, the Bedroom, the Courtroom, and the Classroom. Harper Paperbacks, 2017.
Garcia, Connor Maxwell and Sara. “5 Reasons to Support Affirmative Action in College Admissions.” Center for American Progress, 18 June 2020, www.americanprogress.org/issues/race/news/2019/10/01/471085/5-reasons-support-affirmative-action-college-admissions/. https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/race/news/2019/10/01/471085/5-reasons-support-affirmative-action-college-admissions/Kramer, Margaret. “A Timeline of Key Supreme Court Cases on Affirmative Action.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 30 Mar. 2019, www.nytimes.com/2019/03/30/us/affirmative-action-supreme-court.html. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/03/30/us/affirmative-action-supreme-court.html