Affirmative Action

Affirmative Action

Affirmative action is a policy or practice that aims to promote equal opportunity and increase the representation of certain groups in education and employment. These groups may include people of color, women, and disabled people, who have historically faced discrimination and disadvantage.

Affirmative action programs may take a variety of forms, such as offering special admissions or hiring preferences to members of underrepresented groups, setting goals or targets for the representation of these groups, or providing training or other resources to help these groups succeed. The goal of affirmative action is to help level the playing field and ensure that everyone has an equal opportunity to succeed, regardless of their background or identity.

While affirmative action has been controversial at times, it is generally seen as a way to promote diversity and combat discrimination. It is important to note, however, that affirmative action is not a quota system, and it does not guarantee anyone a job or a place in a particular program. It simply seeks to provide equal opportunity and to ensure that all qualified candidates are considered fairly.

Key Events that Shaped Affirmative Action

The Civil Rights Act of 1964

This landmark legislation prohibited discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin in employment, education, and public accommodations. The Act included provisions that required employers and schools to take affirmative action to ensure that individuals were not being discriminated against on the basis of their protected characteristics.

Regents of the University of California v. Bakke (1978)

This Supreme Court case involved a challenge to a University of California medical school’s affirmative action admissions program, which reserved a certain number of seats for minority applicants. The Court held that the use of racial quotas was unconstitutional, but it also upheld the use of race as one factor among many in college admissions.

Grutter v. Bollinger (2003)

This Supreme Court case involved a challenge to the University of Michigan Law School’s affirmative action admissions program. The Court upheld the program, finding that the use of race as a factor in admissions was constitutional as long as it was narrowly tailored to achieve the compelling interest of diversity in higher education.

Learn More

We Can’t End Affirmative Action Without Fixing Racial Biases in Education

Dismantling affirmative action can reduce collective accountability from institutions to ensure the inclusion of marginalized communities.

What the Term ‘Diversity Hire’ Gets Wrong

Being an exceptional Black candidate sometimes grants access to predominantly white spaces, but at the expense of being taunted as a diversity hire.

Related Words and Phrases

Join the newsletter crew.

Learn a new term each day in our free daily newsletter.