Taking Action For Affirmative Action

If you don’t like affirmative action, what is your plan to guarantee a level playing field?

– Maynard Jackson

Personal Interest

College is scary. The world is chock full of terrifyingly genius tales of how a seventeen-year-old invented an app that gave water to children in Zimbabwe, and the notion has become that you have to do something like that to get into a good school. But is race a factor? My topic for the Catalyst For Change Project is how race affects college admissions through affirmative action. Personally, I was raised with having a lot of pride in being mixed race, but I was also educated on the disparity in minorities in higher education. As someone who goes to a private college preparatory school, I saw this manifested in my everyday life: the lack of minorities at my school mirrored a lack of minorities going to college, too. I became interested in affirmative action when the headlines broke in 2018 that Donald Trump was repealing the Obama-era necessity for colleges to use race-conscious admissions policies to create a more diverse campus. As my dad explained to me what it meant, I couldn’t help but feel that something was taken for me. I have been dreaming of going to the University of Pennsylvania since eighth grade, and to think that Trump’s policy might be the reason I don’t get in felt worrying. I never thought something that I was told was reparations for history would be taken away from me. The way that I see it, what Trump has called a disregard to merit is truly just an attempt to level a playing field that has been uneven for centuries and is a byproduct of living in an institution that is racist by nature and design. It is easy to discount affirmative action as something that only works in favor of minorities, but no matter who is reading this, it benefits you too.

Affirmative Action At My School

This was a poll done at the school I attend, The Head Royce School. In theory, we aren’t affiliated with any political viewpoints, but unofficially almost everyone in my school takes pride in being progressive. If that is true, the 26.2% of people either didn’t know what affirmative action is, or maybe my school is less left-wing than was originally thought.
Get to know my school

History of Aff Act

The controversial policy of affirmative action in higher education has become increasingly paid attention to. The term “affirmative action” is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as “the practice or policy of favoring individuals belonging to groups known to have been discriminated against previously; positive discrimination.” Affirmative action was first used to solve the problem of discrimination against racial minorities in American society. In universities and colleges, this meant having quotas for certain races in each graduating class to diversify the campus and also an academic pool.

“Dark Laughter,” a Jim Crow Era cartoon pubished in the Pittsburgh Courier. September 21st, 1963.

Since the beginning of this country, racial minorities have been oppressed by both social and institutional racism. From slavery in the 1700s, which prohibited any black education, to Jim Crow in the late 1900s, that had “separate but (in)equal” schools, it has been nearly impossible for marginalized groups in America to obtain an equal education to that of most whites (Beckman). The phrase “affirmative action” was first used in a federal document in President Kennedy’s 1961 Executive Order 10925 that required “government contractors to take affirmative action to ensure that applicants are employed and that employees are treated during employment without regard to their race, creed, color, or national origin” (Executive Order 10925). This order, though not specifically referencing higher education, was a stepping stone towards adopting affirmative action in colleges by introducing the term to the American public.

The first true case with an argument against affirmative action was the 1978 Supreme Court case Regents of University of California v Bakke, in which the Supreme Court ruled that “while race was a legitimate factor in school admissions, the use of such inflexible quotas…w[ere] not (Garrison-Wade). With this decision, anti-affirmative action viewpoints were validated by the Supreme Court.

In the 1970s, the Supreme court “sanctioned race as a reasonable means for recruiting a diverse student body in higher education” (Anderson). During the 1990s and early 2000s, it became clear that the pendulum was swinging back in the favor of those who wanted affirmative action repealed, with cases such as the 1996 Supreme Court case Hopwood v Texas, in which “Cheryl Hopwood assert[ed] that [she was] rejected because of unfair preferences toward less qualified minority applicants” (Garrison-Wade). In response, the U.S. Court of Appeals suspended the admission program for affirmative action at the University of Texas and ruled that the 1978 Bakke decision wasn’t valid. This decision denied the legitimacy of diversity as an American goal and stated that “educational diversity American as a compelling state interest” (National Conference of State Legislatures).

“Cartoon of the Day,” a Political Cartoon referencing Hopwood vs Texas

Starting with Prop 209 in California,  then I-200 in Washington, and finally Section 26 of Michigan’s constitution, legislation banning affirmative action was passed to address the controversy surrounding racial aid in college admissions (Tao). After the Hopwood case, the Attorney General of Texas announced that all “Texas public universities [should] employ race-neutral criteria.” (National Conference of State Legislatures). Finally, Florida’s legislature banned race as a factor in College Admissions under Governor Jeb Bush’s “One Florida” initiative (Beckman).

In conclusion, affirmative action may seem like just a hot topic policy, but the reasoning behind the controversy is similar to what America’s conversation about racial discrimination, in general is lacking; the absence of awareness and context that is only possible to obtain by understanding the history behind them.

This game shows how college admissions discriminates against the poor

College Scholarship Tycoon is a game where you’re asked to move your college up the rankings – but striking the wrong balance might force you to reject poor kids who really need college to give them a shot at a better life. There are two primary parts to the game.

The Current Problem

In current history, the public opinion against affirmative action has been so powerful that even Universities with only recent affirmative action supporting policies have been “socially regarded as giving preferential treatment to women and minority candidates.” (Holzer). In the last decade, “the Supreme Court has been increasingly skeptical of affirmative action programs, and it has struck down a number of those programs.” (Sunstein). The political partisanship that has characterized this century in politics includes issues such as affirmative action. These polar beliefs have led to a separation in American society that makes it nearly impossible to pass any federal legislation, so instead, it is decided in each state. Certain states have passed laws that ban affirmative action.

Most recently, “voters in Michigan, Nebraska, and Arizona passed bans in 2006, 2008, and 2010, respectively, and the New Hampshire state legislature enacted a law banning affirmative action” (Hinrichs). An example of these drastic effects is that in certain states like California, where Prop 209 (banning affirmative action in any form) was passed, “the number of black and Hispanic students admitted to [the highest ranked state colleges such as] Berkeley and U.C.L.A. fell after the affirmative action ban” (Hartcollis). The further significance of keeping affirmative action is that as a country, America can’t afford to lose what few minorities still remain in higher education because there is a public opinion from mostly white people that there is a sole component biased against them in an institution that was built on and still remains based off of white supremacy.

A strong argument for affirmative action is that it must be a civil rights issue and not unjust if organizations such as Asian Americans Advancing Justice and the Anti-Defamation League are entering amicus briefs in these supreme court cases. These actions in favor of Race-conscious admissions policies are particularly significant in the case because they argued that “an applicant cannot be evaluated holistically without the consideration of race” (Asian Americans). Directly calling on supporters of blind admissions policies to reevaluate their stances not only flipped the outcome of the case from an anti-affirmative-action stance to a positive one, but also spoke to the public about the importance of self-reflection and factual evidence and not just partisanship when it comes to choosing a side. (Over 160). Another civil rights group called the Anti-Defamation League filed an amicus brief stating that banning affirmative action would be unconstitutional under the Equal Protection Clause because governmental decision making (in state schools specifically) is “racial in nature” due to a history of institutionalized white supremacy.

One indirect benefit of the controversy over affirmative action somewhat due to the willingness of organizations to fight back is that at certain schools like the University of California, Berkeley “the affirmative action ban had pushed [them] to address the cause of low black and Hispanic admissions at its roots” (Hartocollis). A lack of minorities on campus has been proven to be detrimental not only for other students of color but also white students who would usually benefit from the diversity of experiences and the global perspectives held by their peers, therefore, affirmative action benefits everyone (García). In conclusion, as of 2019, we as a country rely on states to decide whether or not affirmative action is an issue and whether minorities in higher education matter to them.



  1. Individually, the reader of this paper can ensure that they are educated by obtaining a plethora of sources to make sure that when they do form opinions, they aren’t biased or include misleading information. This includes the following sources: Neutral, In Favor, Against Affirmative Action
  2. Understand that when partaking in a conversation about this topic, it is crucial to keep in mind that feelings will be involved due to the innate racial nature of these policies. By doing these things, a viable solution can be found because these methods help bridge the gap between opposing sides long enough to find a joint compromise when it comes to affirmative action. See tips below.


  1. On a micro level, I believe affirmative action should be part of the curriculum when applying to colleges. These efforts should be led by college counseling office, who would ideally explain what affirmative action is, note which schools have it (possibly using this list), and which applicants get it. The counselors should also discuss the ways in which race can affect applications if included in personal essays.
Gov. Kasich


  1. Possible Presidential Candidate John Kasich- Who usually identifies as a Republican, recently expressed his support of Medicare, gaining the attention of Democrats (John Kasich). While this may incline people to vote for him, make no mistake: he is quoted to have said “Affirmative action has a negative effect on our society when it means counting us like so many beans and dividing us into separate piles” (Columbus (OH) Urban League Speech, May 17, 1999). By not voting for him and spreading awareness about his stance on affirmative action you save race-conscious admissions policies.
  2. I-1000 in Washington for Nov. 5th, 2019- This initiative allows affirmative action without the use of quotas and bans preferential treatment so a minority status wouldn’t be the sole deciding factor. Supported by the One WA Equality Campaign. I-100, if voted for, could change the way all states think of affirmative action, and might even inspire states like CA (who previously inspired WA to pass 1-200 banning affirmative action) to rescind Prop 209.
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  1. April 26, 2019 by Juliana.Shank

    You presented an interesting history on affirmative action! You also had very compelling visuals. One thing that I thought was worth noting is that in the state bans mentioned, it only relates to public and not private institutions. Given that you are now an expert on the topic, I was curious about how you would respond to the Harvard lawsuit that is going on. Also, I was wondering if you think that income status should be considered in admissions – should we put an emphasis on recruiting more people from low income, even if they are not necessarily minorities? I look forwarding to hearing your thoughts 🙂

  2. April 30, 2019 by Kyong Pak

    Impressive work, Josie! You have come really far from your initial interest in the topic. You present a comprehensive history of affirmative action in higher ed, and provide a compelling case of why and how affirmative action policies benefit ALL. Your video and images/graphics expand our understanding and challenge preconceptions. Finally, I really enjoyed your solutions section – providing graphics on how to have a conversation about race and equity/inequity was very helpful and accessible. What a great way to think about our community norms. Well done!

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