Affirmative action: diversity in numbers

Written by: Caelin Mills and Kathryn Monsewicz

The Trump administration pushed back on his predecessor’s affirmative action policies in July by retracting memos and letters released throughout Obama’s presidency. The Departments of Justice and Education rescinded seven policy guidelines which advise schools on how they can consider race in their admissions processes. 

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, the concept of affirmative action is a result of the 1960s Civil Rights movement, following the Supreme Court’s 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision in an effort to desegregate and diversify schools.

President John F. Kennedy first coined the phrase in 1961, in the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, stating 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.” President Lyndon Johnson went on to sign a 1965 Executive Order requiring government contractors to use these policies in their hiring processes.

However, the documents reversed by the Trump administration in July were simply guidelines, not law. 

Specifically, the Supreme Court ruled in the 2003 case of Grutter v. Bollinger that affirmative action policies are constitutional, stating that the goal of diversity was a compelling interest and race is only one of many factors used to admit students. 

Conversely, a 2014 decision by the Court ruled it constitutional for the state of Michigan to outlaw the process of race-based admissions, leaving the decision to voters in individual states.

The Trump administration’s July announcement states the seven rescinded guidelines “advocate policy preferences and positions beyond the requirements of the Constitution.” The Dear Colleague letter published by the Departments of Justice and Education continues, ”By suggesting to public schools, as well as recipients of federal funding, that they take action or refrain from taking action beyond plain legal requirements, the documents are inconsistent with governing principles for agency guidance documents.”

At Kent State University, the percentage of minority undergraduate students has increased every year since 2000, excluding 2017. The percentage increased even on years where the total number of students decreased. The percentage increased more rapidly during Obama’s tenure, skyrocketing from 12.87 percent in 2008 to 22.32 percent in 2016.

However, according to Nancy Dellavecchia, Kent State University’s Executive Director of Admissions, the school does not consider affirmative action in the process of accepting or denying students admission and has never been race conscious in admissions, but rather base acceptance purely off academics.

“For admission decisions, we look at a student’s academic credentials, their high school transcripts with their grade point average, course curriculum, grades in individual courses, and their ACT or SAT score,” Dellavecchia said.

Information on race or ethnicity in Kent State admissions can be found in institutional research, but is not part of the decision whether a student is accepted or denied. There are no quotas to be met and, according to Dellavecchia, who has been the director for 15 years, there never has been.

Those who advocate against affirmative action agree with these standards, as the policies give preference to minorities based on race versus academic merit. Harrison Mros, the president of Kent State’s Young Americans for Liberty chapter, points out the flaws in race based admissions.

“(Affirmative action) pushes out prospective students who would have gotten in under different circumstances,” Mros said. He also believes financial aid awarded based on race is problematic for the same reasons.

“It also awards financial aid to students explicitly for being a minority. The best alternative would be the standards set forth by the university: cut the financial aid, and take race off of applications,” Mros said. 

Kent State University offers various scholarships for minority students, but does not take race into account during the admissions process. 

However, this hasn’t always been the case. Assistant professor and co-chairman of the diversity and globalization committee for the School of Journalism and Mass Communication, Eugene Shelton earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Kent State.

According to him, while he was in school, most students of color (especially African Americans,) were in attendance through a government sponsored program to help increase enrollment of minority students on campus.

“The presence of African Americans on campus was the government’s and school’s efforts to offer quality education to people of color at the time, but it was still relatively new,” Shelton said, “We were a very unique commodity.”

When applying to the university, students are given the option to write down their race or ethnicity, but it is completely optional.

“We collect that for federal reporting purposes only,” Dellavecchia said.

While the reversal of Obama-era memos and letters does not affect the application of the law ruled by the Supreme Court, some speculate it causes hostility between minorities and the Trump administration. Although they were not reversed until 2018, the percentage of minority undergraduate students decreased for the first time between 2016 and 2017. 

Affirmative action, to Shelton, is an expression of the United States’ very Constitution. 

“America is about welcoming everyone, Shelton said, “This was the land of opportunity. The words are in our Constitution.” He continues, “The words just were not practiced in our history and are still not practiced, unfortunately. Until the words and actions are on the same page, the fight will continue.”


Caelin: Media elements, writing story, featured image, Harrison Mros interview, background content and links
Kathryn: Nancy Dellavecchia interview, Eugene Shelton interview, proofread/edits