The phrase “affirmative action” was first used by President John F. Kennedy in 1961. It was a part of an Executive Order mandating that federal employment practices were free of racial bias and most people now would likely agree that, at the time, the policy was necessary to combat the overt, everyday racism that was common before the Civil Rights movement.
Over the years, the policy changed and developed, incorporating gender and other factors, sometimes becoming law, sometimes requiring quotas and any number of complications — you can read a complete timeline of the history of policies here. Today, the question of the place of affirmative action is far from settled and a case before the Supreme Court this week has put this divisive social issue in the headlines again.
On the docket is the case of a young woman, Abigail Fisher, who was denied admission to The University of Texas in 2008. Fisher says “there were people in my class with lower grades who weren’t in all the activities I was in who were being accepted to UT, and the only other difference between us was the color of our skin.” She sued the University, and now her case is asking the court to rule on taking race into account in college admissions.
On the side of the controversial policy are statistics that show without factoring in race and gender, college classes (as well as workplaces, etc.) end up being composed of just one kind of person, which can not only be unfair, but makes for a less-rich learning environment for everyone. Others argue that affirmative action should still exist, but instead of accounting for race, policies should be focused on including people that have lower family incomes during admissions.
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