The college application process is long, stressful, and difficult for practically every senior across the United States. While some students applied early and already received their acceptance letters, many are still waiting in anticipation for a rejection or welcome note.
Students have poured their hearts into essays and scrambled to add accomplishments to their resumes in order to be a competitive applicant for some of America’s most prestigious universities. However, there is one particular factor that sets certain applicants apart from the crowd: legacy preference.
White privilege presents itself in many forms, one of which is the apparent inherited privilege that white people have passed down through generations. Whether it’s wealth, social status, university clout, or all three, many white people reap the benefits of their ancestors from the day they were born.
This privilege inherently gives them the upper hand in college admissions. Which brings us to the reason that we are writing this article in the first place: the author of the article “Affirmative action sets acceptees up for failure” that was published in the December issue of The Beacon failed to mention the role of legacy preference in college admissions.
The same way that affirmative action based on race could separate two equally competitive applicants, legacies can have the same effect. The legacy pool for many prestigious universities is dominated by white families. This is due to centuries of systemic economic and educational oppression of minorities, which results in the high prevalence of Black and Brown first generation college applicants that we see today. Many minorities do not have long lasting legacies, not because their families were unqualified, but because they were born with darker skin. Institutions such as Harvard, Princeton, Yale and many more were white only schools for so long that it’s impossible for any student of color (particularly Black) to hold any long standing legacy.
Critics of affirmative action use the term “reverse racism” and “reverse discrimination.” This argument is used to prove that people of color aren’t the only ones that face disadvantages and are targeted by their race. Racism, however, is systemic, meaning one race benefits from the oppression of others.
Historically in America, white people have not been segregated, enslaved, or stripped of their basic human rights. They do not face a greater risk of job discrimination, police brutality or imprisonment. It’s important to look at context and history rather than being nearsighted and technically focused.
Affirmative action was not created to give people of color an upper hand and it did not come from nowhere. There was a need for a system that would better represent people of color academically and in careers. Affirmative action doesn’t allow favoritism over another race, but provides a level playing field for all applicants.
Mark Kantrowitz, a nationally-recognized expert on student financial aid, scholarships, and student loans, published a study in which he found that white students receive more than 76 percent of all institutional merit-based scholarship and grant funding, even though they represent less than 62 percent of the student population.
These statistics are miniscule compared to the current racial wealth gap in America––total assets minus total debt. A median black family has $1,700 in wealth, a median latino family has $2,000, and a median white family has $116,800. White families own almost 60 times as much as minority families. So even with affirmative action, minorities are disadvantaged in terms of paying for college, which can cost upwards of $50,000 a year.
Over 300 years of slavery and hundreds more of systemic oppression should be enough justification for affirmative action. There is a gap between the races that seems almost impossible to close. However, policies created by affirmative action initiatives and preferential treatment to minority applicants are only a small step towards a solution.
Hopefully, over time we will see a shift in the treatment of minorities in America. We, however, don’t see that change happening anytime soon. So let’s keep affirmative action.