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The use of affirmative action has long been debated over, especially whether it should be used when examining applicants for higher education. In 1996, this practice was banned in California making it so that colleges and universities could not use a student’s race when looking at their application. This ban was done to help reduce racial discrimination, but has not solved anything. Many students of color are still considered a minority at their schools and are not receiving the same opportunities their white classmates receive. While other efforts can be done to resolve this issue of discrimination, the ban on affirmative action is now being re-examined to be overturned in California.

Critics and supporters of affirmative action have been torn on the question of whether it is truly fair to marginalized students. It might help universities examine their population statistics and offer more opportunities to other racial and ethnic groups, or it may be done merely to fill a diversity quota. Instead of looking at the student as a well-rounded applicant, the admissions committee might only see them for their race. While all students accepted to the same university are equally qualified, the inclusion of affirmative action could cause others to ridicule these students claiming they do not deserve to be there. This only reinforces stereotypes and hurts the communities the system is trying to uplift.

Some argue that income should be looked at instead of race during the application process. Students who have a parent that went to college or were able to afford tutors are already at an advantage. Those from marginalized communities, who are not able to pay for or access these same resources, should not be punished for this. This tactic, however, has already been considered and has not proven to increase diversity. Steps in the admission process, like no longer requiring the SAT or ACT tests, have been initiated to include those from lower income backgrounds. 

Affirmative action overall is not as harmful as it has been portrayed to be. Through its use, it can help create diversity and improve the lives of those who have historically been turned away from higher education. In 2021, University of California Berkeley’s freshman class included only “258 Black students and 27 Native American students out of a class of 6,931.” These low admission numbers do not reflect the same percentage that these groups make up when looking at demographics of the Bay Area. Other steps that the UC system has taken to improve diversity throughout the years have not created the results necessary to achieve equality. Affirmative action is desperately needed to fill this gap. 

Ultimately, the main problems lie within the institution of higher education as a whole. Prestigious universities are known for having historically racist practices and the cost of this education today is yet another way to discriminate. Affirmative action will help, but it is not the solution. These problems stem from centuries of institutional racism that have put people of color at a lower priority. Students from these groups need to be supported so they succeed in graduating and diversity statistics are retained. Re-examining and re-writing the admissions process is the best way for higher education institutions to end institutional racism. Colleges and universities in the U.S., and especially California, should reflect the racial diversity and demographics of their population.