Should U.S. universities remove race-based affirmative action from their admissions procedures? This was the topic Northwestern students debated on Monday night in the Buffett Institute for an event that was co-sponsored by the Northwestern University Political Union and the Northwestern University Asian Pacific American Coalition.
The affirmative side’s opening statement, delivered by Weinberg freshman Jose Trejos, argued that people can game the system when it comes to affirmative action. He argued that affirmative action was biased towards upper class minorities, focuses on issues that don’t necessarily help minority students, and allows for less-qualified students to get into top universities.
“Affirmative action’s primary purpose was to create more colorful admissions pamphlets,” Trejos said. Trejos also specified that he was not against all types of affirmative action. In fact, they felt that affirmative action in terms of income would do enough to support minority groups.
The negative side agreed that there were problems with the way affirmative action was currently being implemented in that that race-blind admissions processes would disadvantage minorities even more. The argument was also made that by having affirmative action in relation to income, but not in relation to race it is being stated that racial diversity is not inherently valuable.
“By getting rid of race-based affirmative action and keeping other types you are saying that a racially diverse campus is not as inherently valuable as one that is diverse in geographic locations and socio-economic diversity,” said Max Rowe.
The topic of qualifications was a big point of the debate. The opening argument of the affirmative stated that less qualified people get into better schools under affirmative action.
“‘Poor minority’ does not mean ‘less qualified,'" Sky Patterson, a SESP freshman and NU Political Union member, said in response to this argument. “You still have to have the credentials to get into selective schools, even under affirmative action.”
There was also discussion about how affirmative action was correcting for racism throughout history, and that it was a way to fix the system. No one seemed to be in disagreement about that aspect.
Students also called upon various studies in relation to GPAs, SAT scores and referenced a study about students who got into Harvard but chose to go to state schools. The affirmative initially brought up this study, but was met with backlash from the negative which claimed the affirmative did not understand the scope of the study. Trejos argued, for the affirmative, that the study proved that often times going to a better school does not increase your income over going to a cheaper state school. Students in the study with the same scores that went to Harvard did as well as those who went to state school when it came to income.
Samantha Buresch, a freshman in SESP, responded to these claims during the debate: “What you’re forgetting in that study was that it depended on major as well.” She said STEM majors, pre-meds and engineers didn’t have significant differences in income, but there was a significant difference for liberal arts majors.
There were a couple times where there was tension in the debate space. Lauren Thomas, a member of Northwestern University Political Union said, “what affirmative action does do is discriminates against Asian American students.” Many Asian students present spoke up about how Asians are always lumped together as a whole, when that is not really the case.
“APAC wanted to put on this event because Asian Americans are often misrepresented in mainstream media when it comes to the affirmative action discussion,” said Stacy Tsai, external-president for APAC. “We wanted to emphasize the diversity of opinions and experiences that are encompassed by 'Asian American' designation.”
“Asians Americans have long been erroneously heralded as ‘model minorities’ without regards for the diversity of experiences encompassed by the term, or for the history and policy decisions that led to the demographics of the Asian American community today,” Tsai said. “To partake in this conversation is to resist internalizing this model minority myth that seeks to put down other minorities and bound Asian American influence and political voice.”
“I was excited to see everyone's opinions and views and to come together in a bipartisan way to discuss important policy issues,” Patterson said. Patterson also made the closing argument for the negative. “I have a passion for policy and the law and I was honored to be one of the people who gets to debate this issue."
Before the debate began, a vote was taken on those who agreed, opposed or chose to abstain. Weinberg junior Aaron Gordon was the moderator for the event. Only a few raised hands agreeing, and only a few abstained. Many more were opposed to removing affirmative action from admissions procedures. After the debate, even fewer raised their hands in agreement, around the same amount of students abstained and more students were against the resolution.
No matter the outcome, Tsai said that partnering with Northwestern University Political Union was the best way to put on this event, and to do it successfully.
“We wanted to put on this event for quite some time," Tsai said. "We wanted to debunk a few misconceptions and bringing people into the discussion about affirmative action. Working with PU made the event more approachable to people with varying opinions.”
Northwestern University Political Union co-president Sabrina Williams said she also agreed that the event was a success, and that she hoped that students would take information away from the experience.
“I hope that we all learn something new," Williams said. "People will challenge ideas that [we] have and that kind of stuff.”