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What Is Fair? High School Students Talk About Affirmative Action

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What Is Fair? High School Students Talk About Affirmative Action

Higher Ed

What Is Fair? High School Students Talk About Affirmative Action

What Is Fair? High School Students Talk About Affirmative Action

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Students at Northwood High School in Silver Spring, Md., have many opinions on the affirmative action debate in front of the U.S. Supreme Court. Elissa Nadworny/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Elissa Nadworny/NPR

Students at Northwood High School in Silver Spring, Md., have many opinions on the affirmative action debate in front of the U.S. Supreme Court.

Elissa Nadworny/NPR

Now that the Supreme Court is considering the issue of affirmative action in college admissions, all kinds of groups are weighing in. But we're not hearing from the people who will be most affected by the court's decision: college-bound teenagers.

The teenagers we talked to attend two suburban high schools near Washington, D.C.: One is majority black and the other school has a mix of Latino, black, white and Asian students. The 16- and 17-year-olds knew little or nothing about the case that's before the Supreme Court — Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin — or about Abigail Fisher, the young woman who sued the university back in 2008. Fisher was denied admission because, she argued, the university wanted more minorities and she was white.

So here's the question we asked the students:

Should College Admissions Decisions Take Race Into Consideration?

  • Anh-Thi Le, 17

    High school senior Anh-Thi Le, 17, talks about her views on race-conscious admissions policies.
    Elissa Nadworny/NPR
    High school senior Anh-Thi Le, 17, talks about her views on race-conscious admissions policies.
    Elissa Nadworny/NPR

    The argument that college admissions policies are mostly about merit rings hollow for some students. Anh-Thi Le, 17, is Vietnamese-American and a senior at Northwood High School, one of the most racially diverse schools in Montgomery County, Md. Anh-Thi is applying to Georgetown University and other top schools where Asians are overrepresented.

    "If it's at a top school and I'm just put against all these other accomplished Asian students, I'm afraid they'll see me as just another Asian student ... like the same as everyone else."

    Even though, says Anh-Thi, Asian kids from poor immigrant families like hers face the same daunting odds that poor black and Latino students face.

    "They weren't given as much guidance when it comes to college. They don't have the same resources like expensive SAT [prep] classes or educated parents who can teach them how to get into college. So, they have to work a lot harder than a white student. I don't think that's fair," Anh-Thi says.

    "Just another Asian student"

    • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/458466601/460562226" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Calvin Stinson, 17

    Calvin Stinson, a senior at Northwood, says race-neutral admissions policies sound fair.
    Elissa Nadworny/NPR
    Calvin Stinson, a senior at Northwood, says race-neutral admissions policies sound fair.
    Elissa Nadworny/NPR

    So, what is fair? Calvin Stinson, a senior at Northwood, thinks race-neutral admissions policies sound fair. Calvin says he is half-Irish, half-Swedish. Should that matter to the admissions office at Tulane University where he's applying? No, says Calvin.

    "When I applied to Tulane, I put that I was white. Actually, my mom was saying, 'Don't put it down. Just leave it blank.' I felt if it gives me a disadvantage, so be it, it gives me a disadvantage."

    Calvin says he's not worried, though: His grades are good enough to get him into any good school. And that's how it should be.

    "If it gives me a disadvantage, so be it"

    • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/458466601/460563039" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Donovan Harvey, 16

    High school senior Donovan Harvey, 16, thinks race should be considered.
    Elissa Nadworny/NPR
    High school senior Donovan Harvey, 16, thinks race should be considered.
    Elissa Nadworny/NPR

    "Yes, I do think race should be taken into consideration when looking at college admissions," says Donovan Harvey, a senior at Eleanor Roosevelt High School in Prince George's County, Md.

    "We hear all the time about the racial disparities in K-12 education slanted against minorities, particularly African-Americans and Latinos," says Donovan. "So to me, it doesn't make any sense [that] when we're talking about higher education, oh, now it becomes colorblind. Now we're not going to look at race."

    "We hear all the time about the racial disparities"

    • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/458466601/460563214" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Raiye Seyoum, 16

    Raiye Seyoum, 16, a junior at Northwood, doesn't think quotas are fair.
    Elissa Nadworny/NPR
    Raiye Seyoum, 16, a junior at Northwood, doesn't think quotas are fair.
    Elissa Nadworny/NPR

    Someone is always going to lose out. That's the problem, says Raiye Seyoum, a junior at Northwood who is not a fan of affirmative action.

    "I don't feel it's really fair. If they [schools] feel like, 'Oh, there aren't many Latino kids, let's accept them,' " says Raiye. "What about that person who's working way harder? Just because you want to add a Latino person to your population ... it's really just not fair."

    "What about that person who's working way harder"

    • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/458466601/460578340" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">

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