Affirmative Action
  • A policy or program providing advantages for people of a minority group who are seen to have traditionally been discriminated against, with the aim of creating a more equal society through preferential access to education, employment, health care, social welfare, etc.


May 1, 2009

What is affirmative action?

Affirmative action most often concerns students when they apply to college. This is the college practice that allows a university to favor a minority in their applicant pool to more even out the demographics of the student body. In essence, it means that if you are a white male applying to college with very good grades and there is another applicant, except he's from Somalia with only somewhat good grades, the Somalian can be chosen over the white male because he's very different compared to the people usually found in the United States. Affirmative action is discriminating AA_2.jpgagainst the majority, except it's not extremely negative like racism; it's just a choice that colleges and businesses are allowed to make. I want to explain why colleges and businesses use affirmative action, why it is allowed, and whether or not it should be allowed. The pictures to the right represent two different takes on affirmative action, obviously the first is in favor, the second is against. The third is a political cartoon that sums up the feelings of many students who are rejected over a minority member.

May 1, 2009
The History: where affirmative action gained attention

1978: Such as in the political cartoon below and to the right, this issue began with a disgruntled applicant to the University of California at Davis Medical School. His name was Allen Bakke, and he was mad that he was rejected from the school. The medical school saved sixteen percent of the available places for minority members with grades below those of the standard entrance requirements - African-Americans, Chicanos, and Asians only. Bakke argued that he should be able to fight for those spots as well and the university violated his Fourteenth Amendment rights to equal protection. His grades were better than the minority members being accepted; why shouldn't he be able to get in too?

The case was taken to the Supreme Court to debate whether affirmative action, the external image p-admi-large.gif
college's right to factor race into its admissions decisions, was legal. In University of California
Regents v. Bakke, the Court forced the school to accept Bakke, but the important decision was that "the Court allowed institutions of higher learning to take race into account as a factor in their future admissions decisions." Also important was the decision that “Government may take race into account when it acts not to insult any racial group but to remedy disadvantages cast on minorities by past racial prejudice.” This decision allowed colleges to continue the practice of affirmative action, unhindered.

Touro Law Center. "University of California Regents v. Bakke." Supreme Court Cases (Summary). 1 May 2009 < >.

May 5, 2009
Arguments for Affirmative Action

Those in favor of affirmative action argue that affirmative action promotes an inclusive democracy, where no one is excluded because of their race. The argument is that a democracy is best achieved when many different races, religions, and backgrounds are represented. They believe that affirmative action is the best way to compensate for all past injustices towards the minority groups - by using affirmative action, colleges and businesses can attempt to reverse past inequalities. There are arguments "that affirmative action policies promote desirable goals such as better mentoring of members of disadvantaged groups or delivering professional services to the disadvantaged." Colleges in particular believe that affirmative action in their schools promotes a "diverse set of participants in discourse, research, and learning," which helps the colleges promote their individual missions. Judges also argue that affirmative action helps to block any current discrimination occurring. It doesn’t take away the factors that cause discrimination, affirmative action can simply block the effects. Affirmative action also aims for racial integration for the future.

Anderson, Elizabeth S.. "Arguments for Affirmative Action Policies." Race, Gender, and Affirmative Action. 9 July 2008. 5 May 2009 < >.

May 5, 2009
Arguments against Affirmative Action

The arguments against affirmative action begin with the idea that this practice is reverse discrimination - that it violates equal protection under the law, and that discriminating against the majority is just as bad as discriminating against the minority. Those against it argue that colleges are violating the principle of merit by engaging in affirmative action. Students aren’t always accepted on the basis of who is best qualified for the spot or position. They wonder if it s fair to accept students who are not up to the regular standards of the institution. They argue that affirmative action benefits students who have not suffered from discrimination, burdening those who have not partaken in discrimination themselves. An institution also does not adjust the size and kind of compensation towards those who have suffered discrimination based on each individual. Many attacks against affirmative action are by unhappy students who had the grades and qualities of a student who should have been accepted but was blocked out by a minority member with lower grades.

Anderson, Elizabeth S.. "Arguments Against Affirmative Action Policies." Race, Gender, and Affirmative Action. 9 July 2008. 5 May 2009 < >.

external image 7-3-Affirmative-Action.jpg
As a note to the reader, most political cartoons are against affirmative action, hence why there are none in favor of the policy.

May 9, 2009

A Critique on Schenectady’s Affirmative Action Policies

In a Schenectady City Council meeting, city taxpayers complained that the polices of the city on affirmative action are very outdated. Affirmative action manager Miriam Cajuste said, “All contractors being paid by Schenectady are in compliance with affirmative action rules requiring them to exhaust efforts to hire minority and female subcontractors.” However, many people say the policy needs to be updated and the current policy “leaves the city vulnerable to lawsuits.” The Rev. Emanuel Adams, city and county affirmative action officer, requests that complaints be brought to him personally. The sense of the article from the Times Union seemed to say that the policy is not strong enough in Schenectady because people are still being discriminated against.

Here is the readily accessible copy of the Schenectady County Affirmative Action policy:

Schenectady County will provide equal employment and contract opportunities to all applicants regardless of race, creed, color, gender, age, national origin, citizenship, sexual orientation, religion, genetic predisposition, marital status, veteran status, or disability. The County will provide, to the maximum extent possible, the same placement, training, promotion, salary, and contract opportunities to all people. To accomplish this Schenectady County will:

· Engage in personnel practices and policies that result in the County government workforce reflecting the demographic diversity of the County
· Actively recruit members of protected classes for County employment
· Strongly enforce Equal Employment Opportunity and Affirmative Action guidelines in vendor contracts

Stanforth, Lauren. "City's affirmative action weak -- Page 1 -- Times Union - Albany NY." Albany NY News - Times Union - Serving Albany, Saratoga, Schenectady, Troy. 21 Apr. 2009. 9 May 2009 <>.

"Schenectady County - Departments - Affirmative Action." Schenectady County. 9 May 2009 <>.

May 11, 2009
The Goal

Hopefully you now are informed on the history of the affirmative action debate, the arguments made by both sides, and the current state of affirmative action in the nearby area. However, the focus of this blog will not be on affirmative action in the job market here, but on the state of affirmative action in colleges and universities. Is affirmative action doing its job; has it served its purpose? Is it time to move on, or does the policy simply need updating to help a different group of people?

My stance is that affirmative action needs to focus more on class, not race; admissions officers need to focus on helping out lower class students more. In addition, forcing non-discriminatory policies later in life, in college and in the workforce, is not how to best build non-discriminatory practices. Schools should be improved to allow more students of different race and class to succeed so they can be successful later in life. However, affirmative action needs to remain in the meantime because of racial issues still present.

May 11, 2009
Affirmative action and Class

“Ability is not just the product of birth.”
-Lyndon Johnson

William Bowen, the former president of Princeton, found a gap in affirmative action five years ago. He and two colleagues commandeered the admissions records from 19 colleges, including Harvard, Middlebury, and Virginia, to see what kind of students received some sort of advantage in the admissions process. The results, assuming SAT scores are all the same:

· A recruited athlete was 30% more likely to be admitted than a non-athlete
· Blacks, Latinos, or Native Americans were 28% more likely that a white or Asian student
· The son or daughter of an alumni was 20% more likely to be admitted
· Low income students received no advantage whatsoever

There is a gap in this affirmative action policy; only some forms of diversity are represented. Class is left out; the poor are less likely to be admitted than middle or upper class students are. “Many of the beneficiaries of the preferences end up being upper-middle-class minority students, since they tend to have better test scores than poor minorities. This means colleges are looking for sheer racial diversity, excluding class diversity. Affirmative action then becomes about this specific form of diversity, “rather than fairness”. “The more selective a school is, the fewer low-income students it has”. As of 2007, the percentage of Pell Grant (government-sponsored scholarships for those in the lower 40% of income distribution) recipients at each university was below 15%, with the exception of UCLA at 37% and Berkeley at 31%. The third ranking college after the two top California schools was Colombia at 15%. Lower income students are not getting enough of a helping hand into the top colleges. Part of the problem starts with the fact that many lower class and also high minority percentage high schools don’t offer the AP classes that help distinguish a bright student. A student’s chances for achievement are lowered when his or her high school isn’t giving the student the chance he or she needs to stand out; thereby barring him or her from the top schools, and limiting that student to a job which might not be the best he or she could achieve. For now, colleges should start focusing on making their student populations more diverse in terms of class background.

Leonhardt, David. “The New Affirmative Action.” The New York Times. 30 September 2007. 11 May 2009 <>.

obama.jpgMay 12, 2009
Thoughts from the President

Recently interviewed, President Obama believes that affirmative action should focus more on class as well, stating that privileged blacks should not get preference over poor whites. He says, “We have to think about affirmative action and craft it in such a way where some of our children who are advantaged aren’t getting more favorable treatment than a poor white kid who has struggled more.” In the interview, President Obama also voiced that race-based preferences could weaken efforts at creating cross-racial coalitions and that whites were more likely to join blacks in a program that wasn’t racially based.

Former classmates of President Obama also say he decided not to state his race on his application to Harvard Law School to evade any sort of help that affirmative action might lend him. He was more keen on “[leveling] the playing field by providing early childhood education programs, access to good schools.” If all kids are given an opportunity to succeed in better schools, they will need less help overcoming the short fallings of lesser schools. For example, at the many largely black high schools around Los Angeles, it is harder to achieve more than a 4.0 GPA because of the lack of AP classes, while colleges they try to apply to, like UCLA, have an average of 4.2. Improved schools with higher-level classes would allow these students a chance to achieve on their own without a lower school holding them back, lessening the need for affirmative action.

President Obama supports the idea that class needs to be taken more into view and that improving starting education will allow minorities to succeed as well, keeping them on the same level as the rest of the population.

Leonhardt, David. “The New Affirmative Action.” The New York Times. 30 September 2007. 12 May 2009 <>.

Swarns, Rachel. “Delicate Obama Path on Class and Race Preferences.” The New York Times. 3 August 2008. 12 May 2009

May 16, 2009
What about legacy students?

In general, any sort of affirmative action will violate the principle of merit; there is no way around that fact. But there always resides the problem of a majority ruled school, where the ideas of all different kinds of people are not brought to the table and all different opinions are not heard. One of the ideas of college is to interact with many different kinds of people, not just the people you’ve been living with for the past eighteen years.

However, no one looks at the situation of legacy students; students who got in because their parents went to that school. Estimates say that about 1 out of 7 students in the Ivy League are sons and daughters of alumni. A study by the Department of education determined that the average Harvard legacy was “significantly less qualified” than other students accepted. So why does no one complain or take aim at them? Rejected students complain at the minorities who edged them out, but what about the legacy students who edged out even more people? Cut out affirmative action, and you still have the unfair advantage of these legacy students to contend with.

Time magazine writer Joe Klein agrees that affirmative action is flawed. It is our cheap way of trying to enact racial justice. He says, “The only real long-term answer to inequality is to provide a better educational system for the poor… new facilities, longer school days and school years, the best college prep classes.” Fixing the educational system would require a complete overhaul of the current system, though, something that isn’t exactly easily attainable. Affirmative action is the current way to sort of fix the problem without having to enact a massive educational renovation.,9565,1568439,00.html

Klein, Joe. "Can We Improve on Affirmative Action?". Time Magazine. 10 Dec. 2006. 16 May 2009 <,9565,1568439,00.html >.

May 16, 2009
Why affirmative action should remain

Affirmative action, if not the revamping of the school system, is still necessary though; unconscious racial attitudes still exist. Take this multi-university study as an example:

120 nonblack students were told they were being recruited for an experiment on team-oriented problem-solving. They were broken into three groups. The members of the first group were individually placed in a room with a black actor and a white actor, both posing as fellow participants in the study, and watched as the black actor slightly bumped the white actor while leaving the room. After the black actor had left, the white actor played out one of three scenarios, saying, "I hate it when black people do that," "Clumsy n" or nothing at all. None of the people in the two other study groups experienced the interactions directly; one group watched them on video and the other simply read about them. After the incident, students were asked to choose one of the two actors — still posing as fellow participants — for the teamwork assignment. More than 80% of the students who watched a racist exchange on video said they would not work with the white student. Those who read about racist behavior showed a similar aversion, with 75% preferring the black actor as a teammate. Participants in both groups said they were deeply upset by the racist comments. The same did not hold true for the participants who experienced the racist event firsthand. None intervened to correct or disparage the white actor, nor did they report being upset by his comments when questioned later. In fact, 71% of the students chose the white actor as their partner for the assignment when he made a racist comment.”

People who witnessed the event in person were more likely to dismiss the racist attitude of the white actor. In a test, similar to the “see a word/picture, what words to you associate with that word/picture”, Harvard psychologist discovered that Americans associate negative words, like angry, criminal, and poor “more quickly after being exposed to a black face, suggesting unconscious racist associations with black people.” Jack Dovidio, a Yale psychologist says that “if the majority of people who believe they are not racist rationalize away racist behavior and don’t intervene or even get upset when it occurs, then the society is going to be an unfair, unequal society.” There has to be some way to fix this, or at least some effort made to change these prejudices. Currently, without spending the years to fix the educational system, affirmative action is the best way to try to fix these racial attitudes.

If you don’t like the idea of minorities and the poor receiving aid and a helping hand to get into college, then what do you suggest we do? Poor people are less likely to get into a good school and racial attitudes still exist. The current affirmative action system needs to remain to at least try to combat racism, but it also needs to focus more on the poor who have issues getting into college. Trying to pass enough legislation to improve many of the public schools in the country will take many years; in the meantime, something has to be fighting racism.,8599,1870408,00.html

Harrell, Eben. “Study: Racist Attitudes Are Still Ingrained.” Time Magazine. 8 Jan. 2009. 16 May 2009. <,8599,1870408,00.html >.

May 16, 2009
An idea for lower class applicants

Trying to put a qualifying value on who in the lower classes should receive extra aid would be a nightmare. Some Americans will be annoyed if they received an upper-middle class classification when their equally well off neighbor receiver a lower-middle class classification and extra help. Race is easier to determine than social class, but that doesn’t mean that the lower classes don’t deserve some sort of aid in getting into college. Even if only the very low portion of society received some sort of aid, it would be better than the statistics that say the lower classes don’t receive any aid whatsoever (see previous entries). Universities need some way to determine who has overcome huge challenges to arrive at where they are now, but that is such a nebulous topic that quantifying it and comparing it is almost impossible. Admissions officers need to have some sort of compassion and some extra information from the applicant to determine who has overcome some sort of issues. Or perhaps, more simply, applicants who believe they should receive extra aid because of their current situation should write their college essays making the case that they surmounted many challenges and deserve a break getting into college. Everyone has to write an essay in an application to a relatively good college, why not just change the topic? If you feel like you deserve the aid, why not write a persuasive essay to the admissions officers? Officers would immediately know and be able to decide on who deserves the extra aid, and would able to more accurately give the aid to those who need it. Of course there are always those who would try to beat the system with an essay that isn’t about their own history; an admissions officer would probably be able to see who is faking it based on the parent’s occupations and financial aid they actually applied for.

Affirmative action needs to stay for the meantime, and if you personally believe you deserve the extra minority or lower social class help, then persuade the admissions officers you deserve it. If you feel you genuinely merit the help, then write a good essay about it.,9171,1832877,00.html

Kinsley, Michael. “Say No to Class War.” Time Magazine. 14 Aug. 2008. 16 May 2009. <,9171,1832877,00.html>.

May 19, 2009
"Might Obama's success undercut affirmative action?"

A major question against affirmative action is that if Americans elected a black president, doesn’t that mean that they have overcome past discrimination? "Obama is further evidence that the great majority of Americans reject discrimination, reject prejudice." However, though people like Hillary Clinton, President Obama, and Oprah Winfrey have grained fame and succeeded in their professions doesn’t mean that ordinary minorities are doing as well or are "free from day-to-day biases that deny them equal access to top schools or jobs." Obama does believe that the quota system some colleges used to use, saying they needed to accept a certain number of each minority, is not what affirmative action needs to be and only results in more discrimination. Deep down what needs to be fixed are the crumbling school districts which put minority children behind their peers from kindergarten on. Affirmative action is a limited tool, but necessary until school systems can be fixed. Some minority students aren’t even benefiting from affirmative action because they don’t graduate from high school. So until we fix the school systems, something has to keep minorities applying and being accepted to colleges.

Babington, Charles. "Might Obama's success undercut affirmative action." The Boston Globe. 28 June 2008. 19 May 2009.

The Congress of New York State 2009

Committee for Improving Affirmative Action
Principal Author:
Katie McQuade
Bill No:
State Legislature of New York

Title of Bill:
Mandated Improvement of School Districts Act
Be It Enacted By The New York State Congress

Preamble: Whereas many colleges are using affirmative action to try to end years of discrimination against minorities, and since many non-minority applicants are annoyed at being edged out by under-qualified minority students, and since discrimination is still present and needs to be dealt with in a manner to better try to end it,

SECTION 1: Let the goal of this act be to improve K-12 public school districts most densely populated by minorities and any school district not offering the same opportunities as better off schools. Any use of the word “school” denotes a public school or district.

SECTION 2: Let any high school who does not offer a full sports program, AP and Honors classes, or a full music and arts program be required to upgrade these programs.
Sub-SECTION A: Not all AP classes must be offered, but at least six classes should be offered. All core classes should have an honors level available.
Sub-SECTION B: Not all sports need to be offered, but at minimum, four sports per athletic season need to be offered. At least half of the sports offered must be for girls or co-ed teams.
Sub-SECTION C: All schools must have at least a band, an orchestra, a choir, and three years of art classes available, including one advanced art class.

SECTION 3: Let improvements to schools will be done in sections, with the schools meeting the fewest of the criteria in SECTION 2 be aided first. Schools will not be mandated to improve until the schools below them have been aided.

SECTION 4: Let any school who is required to upgrade the programs specified in SECTION 2 receive state and federal aid to do so.
Sub-SECTION A: A drawn up proposal of planned improvements must be submitted to a committee from each school district for review and to determine the quantity of aid needed by each district. Plans should be as budget conscious as possible and will be altered if exorbitant spending seems apparent.
Sub-SECTION B: Plans should be divided into new teacher salaries, construction projects, athletic equipment and facility improvement, and teaching supplies. Teaching supplies and new teacher salaries require long term aid until the district can finance itself, up to ten years of aid if necessary. If the ten years is not enough, schools should submit a proposal for more aid and a plan on how they will raise funds in the future.
Sub-SECTION C: Schools will receive separate payments for each step of their improvement, divided into new teacher salaries, construction projects, athletic equipment and facility improvement, and teaching supplies.
Sub-SECTION D: Financing for the improvements will be planned for in the state budget. Current state aid allows for $21-24 billion in aid to schools which should be increased to $40 billion at least for each year it takes to upgrade all public schools in the state.
Sub-SECTION E: Necessary increases in the state budget will come from increased taxes paid by the public and any donations from sponsors.

SECTION 5: After this bill is passed schools will have a period of six months to submit proposals for improvements. After that, an appointed committee would have the next six months to review the proposals and separate them into need-based classifications; those who need the most aid will be improved first. The actual enactment of the law will be in the next state budget after the one year period for proposal submittal and review. The budget will plan for the increase in state aid and schools will be helped in order of most-needed improvement to least until the funding runs out for that year. This will repeated every subsequent year until all public school districts have been improved and school districts become self sufficient with normal state aid to their schools.

**The line numbering system didn't line up properly on the wiki page, so I simply took it out.

Explanation at why this is aimed at the State Legislature:

I think in order to really fix the problems with affirmative action, anything done needs to be large scale. I thought country-wide would be too chaotic, so I chose a state-wide bill. I also thought that school districts, cities and counties wouldn’t be able to raise enough money on their own in their own small, confined area, so I thought the best way to create the large-scale improvement was to increase the statewide taxes to raise the funds for the public school districts. I saw the best way to improve the affirmative action system in colleges was by making it less necessary by improving K-12 school districts, mandating state-wide school improvement. I think as soon as minorities are placed on the same level as majority members, then there won’t be such a need for affirmative action, which many people deem unfair.

Authors note:
If I had more time to work on this, I probably would have uncovered many more ways to deal with affirmative action, or more support for the improvement of school districts. The bill probably would have been more specific too. I was aiming to be able to determine where the money was coming from exactly and where it was going exactly to be able to outline it in the bill. The improvement of schools is not a very quantifiable subject either, I would have liked to do some research on the school districts of New York State to see what areas more specifically needed the aid. If I had more time, I would have decided on the aid figures more accurately, determining how much, on average, a school district might need and factoring that into the required state aid in the budget.