The passing of Initiative-200 in the year 1999 abolished affirmative action throughout Washington State. Section 1 of the Initiative states that “The state shall not discriminate against, or grant preferential treatment to, any individual on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin in the in the operation of public employment, public education, or public contracting.” The question now is whether or not Washington state should propose a new initiative to reintroduce affirmative action.
This is a highly debated subject throughout the country. There are those who believe affirmative action is actually “reverse discrimination” and those who believe that it is necessary in order to ensure that everyone has equal opportunities and access to employment and education.
The bottom line is that this is a Civil Rights issue. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures’ website, “Affirmative action policies are those in which an institution or organization actively engages in efforts to improve opportunities for historically excluded groups in American society.” Essentially, it is making an effort to be inclusive of groups that have previously been excluded.
While affirmative action is currently not a requirement of private institutions in Washington State, the University of Puget Sound has a Diversity Strategic Plan that was put into effect in 2007. The first goal of the plan states that the university “will increase the recruitment and retention of students, staff, and faculty from underrepresented minority groups.” The policy itself shows that the institution is making an effort to increase diversity. The fact that Puget Sound still has a policy resembling affirmative action is reassuring given the negative affects that have been seen in other states that have banned affirmative action.
An article published in the UCLA Journal of Education and Information Studies in 2008 discusses the impact on college admission rates after bans on affirmative action had been passed. The numbers are rather telling of the influence a ban on affirmative action policies can have on minority admission rates. For example, UCLA saw a drop from 7.31 percent African-American Freshmen in 1995 to 2.67 percent ten years later. The article also notes that the University of California, Berkley had a Hispanic FTIC (First Time in College) enrollment of 20.04 percent in 1990, but was down to 12.51 percent by 2000.
These figures make it quite clear that there is most likely a serious problem with banning affirmative action. The purpose of affirmative action is not to punish those groups who have been historically favored. Rather, it is to ensure equal opportunity for all individuals regardless of factors that make them an underrepresented member of society.
One of the main reasons individuals oppose affirmative action is that they believe it is not necessary in today’s society. While it is nice to think that we have come so far in the realm of civil rights issues, the battle is far from over. Discrimination still exists, even if it does not seem as prevalent as it did 30 years ago. Our society has made great strides in the realm of civil liberties, but it is far from perfect. There are still great discrepancies in household income, wages among men and women, and college enrollment rates.
Fortunately, Puget Sound does a fantastic job of trying to create a more diverse campus and welcomes individuals of all backgrounds, but most of this is on a voluntary basis. There needs to be a way to ensure inclusion in all aspects of employment, contracting, and, perhaps most importantly, education. Affirmative action is a way to make sure that no one is excluded or discriminated against and is perhaps the most effective way to do so. It is important to take a serious look at what the data is describing before labeling affirmative action as another form of discrimination.