Negassi Tesfamichael: Does a Well-Off Black Student Deserve Affirmative Action?

Affirmative Action

Negassi Tesfamichael: Does a Well-Off Black Student Deserve Affirmative Action?

NEGASSI TESFAMICHAEL | Milwaukee high-school student

When I apply to college this fall, I will mark the box labeled "Black or African-American" on the Common Application. As the implications of the Supreme Court's ruling in Fisher v. University of Texas become understood and the nation examines the role race plays in achieving diversity, I wonder whether I should qualify for affirmative action.

I defy many black stereotypes. I grew up in a quiet suburb, where I have never faced a dangerous situation. My parents have been happily married for 18 years. I attend private school, and my standardized test scores rank in the 90th percentile. I never have had an encounter with the law. (My worst offenses are overdue library books.)

I also have never had to worry about where my next meal would come from or whether my family has the resources for me to even consider applying to college. But while my family is well off now, that wasn't always the case. My parents came to the United States after fleeing war in Eritrea. They had to work very hard to achieve the financial stability we now enjoy.

So, should affirmative-action efforts apply to me?

In 2003, the high court ruled in Grutter v. Bollinger that race could play a limited role in public universities' admissions policies. Many opponents of affirmative-action programs, such as the plaintiff in Fisher v. University of Texas, would say that I have economic advantages and that people who are well off underscore why colleges nationwide should dissolve practices such as Texas's Top 10 Percent program. By guaranteeing admission to state-funded schools to all who finish in the top 10 percent of their high school class, the program helps many minority students from struggling schools gain admission to public colleges.

Private and public universities seek diverse student bodies under the thinking that multiple and varied perspectives lead to a better classroom experience. Many top colleges have full-time minority recruitment programs. With only 5 percent of African-American high school students meeting all of the ACT college readiness benchmarks in 2012, it's easy to see why a smart black kid is a rarity whom such recruiters would seek out.

Some aspects to my life are influenced by but not unique to my race: We speak multiple languages in my home, and not all college applicants get to see this country through an immigrant's lens. I have also had experiences that are only about my being black.

Affirmative action is aimed at promoting diversity, a legitimate principle whose merits are often derided or abused. Many supporters believe that affirmative action is needed for the benefit of minority students who could not otherwise move up in society or to make up for wrongs done to past generations. Yet as President Obama said in May to graduates of historically black Morehouse College, "We've got no time for excuses."

Who today really thinks that they can survive in the 21st-century workforce with no ability to communicate and collaborate with people different from themselves? There should be some appreciation for the diverse backgrounds of all Americans. As a student trying to learn and grow, I appreciate views that help me see the world more clearly.

I understand that many would say that people like me don't need any sort of affirmative action. Some of us probably could get into a college without efforts to ensure diversity. But I'm glad the holistic admissions process practiced by most colleges remain in place. They give more people the opportunity to contribute and allow others to benefit from and appreciate uniqueness, regardless of whether that is based on race alone.

Negassi Tesfamichael will be a senior at Marquette University High School in Milwaukee. This column ran first in The Washington Post.