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High Court Paves Way for State Bans on Affirmative Action

Joseluis89 via wikimedia commons
Affirmative action demonstration outside the U.S. Supreme Court in 2003

The U.S. Supreme Court has upheld the state of Michigan’s ban on affirmative action. Utah lawmakers have considered a similar ban in the past. But advocates say marginalized groups still need protections.

In 2010, Utah Republican Representative Curt Oda floated a resolution to change Utah’s constitution to ban local governments, state agencies and public colleges and universities from providing preferential treatment to applicants based on race, sex, color, ethnicity or national origin. Like the ban in Michigan, had Oda’s measure passed, it would have required approval from voters. He has likened affirmative action to reverse racism.

“I think it is more oppressive to those who it was meant to help,” Oda says. “It’s basically telling them, you’re not good enough to do it on your own so here it is.” 

Maria Ledesma is an Assistant Professor of Educational Leadership and Policy at the University of Utah. She worked closely with the University’s Office for Equity and Diversity to study affirmative action and the state of diversity on the campus. She says affirmative action gives institutions context for choosing applicants, not a quota.

“I want to be clear that what it also means is that whoever the candidate is, they’ve always met the qualifications,” Ledesma says. “So there is no skirting that.”

Ledesma says affirmative action has not only increased diversity on college campus, but also the value of diversity on college campuses and in a global economy.

“Academics, corporations, high-ranking military, they will tell you that we cannot live in a world without diversity,” Ledesma says. And in some cases because our k-12 educational playing field is not level, we need to account for those disparate opportunities by taking race into account.”

Along with Michigan, California, Florida, Washington, Arizona, Nebraska, Oklahoma and New Hampshire are also states that currently ban affirmative action.

Representative Oda says he’s not sure if he’ll again sponsor legislation to do the same in Utah. 

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