Justice Sotomayor’s Strong Dissent Prompts Re-Imagining Of Affirmative Action

April 28, 2014  |  

Last week’s 6-2 Supreme Court decision in favor of Michigan’s affirmative action ban has prompted further analysis of the strong dissent issued by Justice Sonia Sotomayor and a look at what affirmative action would look like if it were redesigned.

In her dissent, Justice Sotomayor railed against the majority’s “colorblindness,” a reluctance to face the history of racial inequality in this country and its repercussions.

“The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to speak openly and candidly on the subject of race, and to apply the Constitution with eyes open to the unfortunate effects of centuries of racial discrimination,” she wrote (quote via MSNBC). “[W]e ought not sit back and wish away, rather than confront, the racial inequality that exists in our society. It is this view that works harm, by perpetuating the facile notion that what makes race matter is acknowledging the simple truth that race does matter.”Or in other words, the majority seems to think (erroneously) that acknowledging the existence of racial disparity somehow furthers racism.

In one example, Sotomayor notes that an outright ban on affirmative action will prevent many students of color from entering a university they’ve been rejected from, but privileged students with connections or a relative who’s an alum will still have the chance to “lobby” for a spot.

Despite the eloquence and truth in what Justice Sotomayor said, many see the decision as a sign that traditional affirmative action policies as we know them are done. Time evaluates what it thinks has been wrong with affirmative action programs all along and proposes an alternative: rather than waiting until students have made it to the point that they’re applying for college, begin with efforts to get them to college in elementary school. The argument is that for the few students from disadvantaged backgrounds who make it to the point of applying to college, there are many others who are lost in a system of failing public schools and never have the opportunity.

“[Schools seeking to increase diversity] should hire scouts in the inner cities and decaying suburbs to look for bright elementary-school students,” the magazine writes. “They should go into the homes of those children to explain to their parents that success in college can be a path to prosperity for the entire family. They should create advertising campaigns around their most successful minority students and alums, glamorizing the idea of academic achievement.”

By bringing these young people into the fold early and nurturing their education, we wouldn’t have to later “[tilt] the field in their favor when most of them have already given up,” the article continues.

Colleges are already taking the hint, seeking out other ways to increase diversity without running afoul of traditional affirmative action detractors, looking at things like socioeconomic status and whether a student is the first in their family to go to college when considering an applicant.

What are your thoughts on affirmative action?

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