Category: Opinion

If you watched the last presidential debate, you probably noticed that the first topic Chris Wallace pressed the candidates on was the Supreme Court. Control over the Supreme Court is always a contentious issue, but Justice Antonin Scalia’s death and the sudden Supreme Court vacancy has made the tension more much apparent.. Whoever wins this election will be tasked with appointing a new Justice and possibly two others, potentially changing the ideology of the majority of the Court for 25 years as Wallace put it. This has enormous repercussions for a host of issues from gun control to abortion, but I’m not here to talk about that. I’m here to talk about affirmative action.

As you might know, the Supreme Court upheld the inclusion of affirmative action in college admissions policies over the summer. In doing so, it said that since educational diversity is a valid goal for administrators, colleges and universities should have wide discretion in considering race in admissions policy. Since administrators cannot explicitly rely on a quota system, they consider race as part of holistic review. First-years probably remember hearing almost every college they applied to admit to using this policy. In short, holistic review means that admissions considers a wide range of factors when considering a student, including academics, extracurriculars, and diversity. It was this policy that was under threat before the Court this summer, and the same policy that current Columbia President, Lee C. Bollinger defended in 2003.

Your choices this election are rather stark. When the Court ruled over the summer, the traditional conservatives dissented, though not for stereotypical ‘Republicans don’t understand black people’ reasons. Justice Samuel Alito who wrote the dissent for the second Fisher v. University of Texas in Austin case articulates that affirmative action as practiced has “gone berserk” and helps affluent African-Americans more than Asian-Americans. This is interesting since the same petitioners behind that case are also advancing with another case against Harvard University centering around Asian-Americans. If Trump appoints two conservatives or centrist Justice Kennedy is persuaded by these arguments with one Trump appointee, affirmative action through holistic review is dead. Hillary Clinton, we can gander, probably will appoint justices that will affirm affirmative action, ensuring that even if Kennedy is swayed by conservative arguments, affirmative action will stay.

Look, we can have long lengthy debates over the value of affirmative action in colleges, but I don’t want to delve too deep into whether we should have affirmative action. What I will say is that throughout the country, one of the most prominent demands from activists has been an increase in diversity within the student body. Holistic review is the only way colleges can do that somewhat directly. Columbia might be able to produce similar effects by focusing on socioeconomic diversity within its large applicant pool. I imagine someone who cares about racial diversity would still want Columbia to be able to prioritize racial diversity instead of hoping the mechanics work out. But I also imagine people who want admissions to be fair and more predictable would prefer Columbia adopt standards that can be measured and scrutinized. Whatever your side, this debate will be decided by who controls the presidency and the Senate.  

Ufon’s mini-series, Columbia and the 2016 Election, will run through the November 8th Presidential Elections.

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The Chinese community has been cheesed off recently by the Fox News’ O’Reilly Factor, as the correspondent Jesse Watter came to Chinatown in Manhattan and asked stereotypical and racist questions. Social media exploded after the segment was broadcasted on national television, and Chinese protesters gathered demanding an apology. Yet, Bill O’Reilly remains standing by Jesse Watter and refers the outrage from the public as an “organized campaign.”

I watched this footage. I asked the same question as Ronny Chieng does on the Daily Show: how is this thing news? And among all the disrespectful things he did in Chinatown, what I find the most shameful is the moment when he questioned two old Chinese people who couldn’t understand English. He thought it was funny to show some awkward silence when talking to someone who didn’t understand the language, but what he actually did was challenge the most basic and fundamental respect and politeness this society values.

Language is important in shaping a community and identifying a community member. Common language is the basis for communicating, sharing opinions, collaborating and even debating. However, people are forgetting the fact that speaking is fundamentally an ability, just as walking or seeing. It should not be taken for granted that everyone in this country has enough language proficiency to express his or her opinions and utilize speaking as a way to defend his or her rights. As in O’Reilly Factor, when facing a man asking racist questions in a language they don’t know, the old Chinese people could not, even if they wanted to, retaliate the ridicule imposed on them. They could only respond to Jesse Watter with an awkward smile, half friendly and half puzzled.

And it is not them to blame. If we can respect people who can’t walk, if we can respect people who can’t see, why can’t we respect people who can’t speak? We have made great effort to make our facilities and infrastructures accessible to people who have special needs, yet it seems that we forget how to make our society accessible to those who have difficulties in speaking for their rights. We have emphasized making an environment comfortable enough for those who have physical disabilities, yet our community is shying away from those who can’t express their opinions properly.

The barrier of language may be more deep and severe than the barrier of race and identities, but there is less awareness of it, because the victims suffering from this do not have a voice and cannot confront the injustice they face, and so we may never hear their stories. It is difficult to protect their rights and keep them from bullying in terms of language. We can only count on our conscientiousness and our humanity. But for a civilized community, it is necessary.

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