For a while, I’ve wondered if affirmative action in talent-based degrees such as theater, architecture, music performance, and fashion design is doing its job correctly.
My sister is a senior in high school and is applying to many major schools for musical theater. She attends the Academy of Theatre Arts, where many students do go on to pursue theater at a university. Last year, a graduating senior was accepted into the highly competitive NYU Tisch School of the Arts in New York City. He is a good dancer, but we were puzzling about why he was picked over the many other talented “triple threats” vying for a spot in the program. This student happened to be a mixed race hispanic, so it got me wondering if that had any effect in his being chosen above other students that might have been more talented.
Keep in mind- the above story is an anecdote. There are many things we do not know about the situation to judge how much this student’s race affected his acceptance. He could have had an excellent audition, known or worked with NYU faculty beforehand, received superb letters of recommendation… for all we know, the talent level in applicants last year may not have been as high.
However, I do want to examine in this blog post the pros and cons to affirmative action, and if it has truly succeeded in doing its job.
It’s a common myth that affirmative action will cause many Caucasian workers to lose out. Government statistics prove that this is not necessarily true. According to the Department of Commerce, “there are 2.6 million unemployed Black civilians and 114 million employed White civilians (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 2011). Thus, even if every unemployed Black worker in the United States were to displace a White worker, only 2% of Whites would be affected.” This statement, however, is applicable to the general workforce and not the creative pursuits where talent comes into question. Statistics and studies in this specific area are severely lacking.
I do understand that many African Americans don’t have as much of an opportunity to learn how to play the violin well, study under a prestigious dance teacher, or visit cities with famous architecture to inspire them in their work. I think this is the problem that should be remedied- that way, we can even the playing field, and the main decision for college acceptances or job offers will be based on talent, like it should be. Surprisingly, one of my least favorite supreme court justices agrees with me. Clarence Thomas, “who has opposed affirmative action even while conceding that he benefited from it, told a reporter for The New York Times in 1982 that affirmative action placed students in programs above their abilities. Mr. Thomas, who was then the 34-year-old chairman of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, didn’t deny the crisis in minority employment. But he blamed a failed education system rather than discrimination in admissions.”
There aren’t many studies to prove that it would be more beneficial to improve the early education system rather than have a quota for minority students applying for college. In some cases, I’m sure affirmative action works great- there are more minority and female workers in the workforce today than ever before. However, when talent is called into question, I wonder if there is a better solution to the inequality conundrum that still plagues us today.