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Sunday, June 23, 2024
The Observer

What money is to happiness, affirmative action is to college diversity

For the past week, I have been reading “The Happiness Project” by Gretchen Rubin; during this time, I have also been reflecting on the Supreme Court hearings on affirmative action that took place on Monday, Oct. 31. On Thursday, while I was reading the book’s chapter on money (Chapter 7), I followed Rubin as she reflected on the connection between money and happiness. Early on in her musings, I came across the following comment that reminded me of the discussion on affirmative action:

“Money alone can't buy happiness. But, as a follow-up, I asked myself, “Can money help buy happiness?” The answer: yes, used wisely, it can.”

Now, replace the idea of money with affirmative action and happiness with diversity. The ideas are nearly the same, except for one vital difference. Unlike with money and happiness, it’s not that an institution logically cannot rely on affirmative action to create diversity; it constitutionally cannot. Therein, lies the argument against affirmative action. Under the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, affirmative action cannot be the reason your campus is diverse, but many would argue that it should continue to be allowed as one of many factors, including social economic status, first-generation status and the disclosures of any relevant hardships. Without affirmative action, that’s one less avenue toward creating diversity at higher education institutions. There are certainly other ways, but if you take out affirmative action, you fundamentally weaken the process towards diversity. 

As Rubin continued her reflection on money and happiness, she noted that while money does not guarantee happiness, it can operate as a protective factor against unhappiness. If you live in poverty, you simply do not have the capacity to pursue happiness in your day-to-day life. Money won’t make you happy, but poverty will make it very difficult for you to get there. 

In the same way, for institutions with a predominantly white admissions history, their admissions processes simply are not designed to recognize the whole value of students of color. Affirmative action ensures that students of color won’t face further limitations from cultural and systemic disadvantages. It is not relying on a quota to create diversity; it is allowing an understanding of cultural contexts and history to inform life-changing decisions. Then, when admissions officers can proceed with informed decisions and heightened awareness, they are able to foster diversity.

Now, returning to the question presented in the Supreme Court on Monday, do I think considering race in admissions decisions breaches the 14th Amendment? I think it has the potential to. If the considering race in college admissions meant contributing to a quota, then yes. I would certainly agree that the use of race was unconstitutional. 

However, I think the way race is considered in modern admissions is entirely in line with the Fourteenth Amendment, because race is not the basis of the decision; it only informs it. It helps the admissions officer understand the applicant and their circumstances more. At a school like Notre Dame, where building community is everything, considering race means taking note of how one person’s cultural difference can enrich our beautiful campus. Additionally, our institution is also dedicated to fostering a community of intellectual rigor. Considering one’s cultural background can also mean making note of how one’s cultural differences may allow an individual to think differently from their peers and contribute to richer discussions. 

Money is not everything in terms of happiness, but it has an impact. Likewise, affirmative action is not everything in terms of diversity, but it, too, has an impact — and there are dozens of thousands of students and alumni around the nation that can attest to this fact. It is my hope the Supreme Court chooses to protect affirmative action and allow our institutions to continue using it wisely in their efforts to foster diversity. 

Joy Agwu


Nov. 7

The views in this letter to the editor are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.