A Preliminary Analysis of African American College Students' Perceptions of Racial Preferences and Affirmative Action in Making Admissions Decisions at a Predominantly White University

Article excerpt

The purpose of this study was to survey African American College students' perceptions of racial preferences and Affirmative Action in making admission decisions at a predominantly White university. 422 questionnaires were sent out to African American College students at a large, urban, public, comprehensive research university in the southern region of the United States. 400 questionnaires were completed for a response rate of 95%. The data revealed that a majority of the respondents felt race preferences should be used in making admission decisions at predominantly White colleges and universities. More significantly, all the respondents agreed that Affirmative Action and not a lower grade point should be used as part of university admissions decisions.


Affirmative Action is a phrase that has its roots in centuries of old English administrative practice to ensure justice for all (Skrentny, 1996). According to Skrentny, the English (British) administration, as the king at the time saw it, was favoring just a section of the masses and others who were equally contributing to the up keep of the kingdom (king) were not enjoying equal benefits. Thus, it was only very few people who had access to certain amenities in the kingdom. In fact, those who did hard labor in building the kingdom had very little to live on. Ssekasozi (1999) who affirms this historical argument argues the people in the empire began to complain to their immediate supervisors and the core of the British (Empire) administration got wind of the injustices. However, both authors failed to give in-depth analysis of this historical argument.

This paper examines few court cases dealing with university admissions involving Affirmative action. It traces the history of Affirmative Action, discusses some definitions, and uses a survey conducted in a southern urban predominantly white college to measure the perception of African American students on the use of Affirmative Action in college admissions.

In the United States existing literature on Affirmative Action is not clear on its origin and the precise date when Affirmative Action started is still a conundrum. Nevertheless most of the literature pin the origin of Affirmative Action in the United States from 1935. Skrentny (1996) and Tomasson, Crosby, and Herzberger (2001) believe that this, Affirmative Action, basic legal English concept that opposes rigid legal rules that produces harsh results found its way into American administrative system in 1935.

The phrase, Affirmative Action, they contend, appeared as part of the National Labor Relations Act of 1935 (See Dept. of Labor Fact Sheet, 95-17). As they put it, Affirmative Action meant, "that an employer who was found to be discriminating against union members or union organizers would have to stop discriminating, and also take Affirmative Action to place those victims where they would have been without the discrimination" (Skrentny 1996, p.6). Oral historical tradition states that Affirmative Action caught the attention of the American administration during World War II when the former Soviet Union detected that the U.S. Army was not reflective of the population (Ssekasozi, 1999). Prior to the 1960s, Affirmative Action seemed to play well within labor organizations and White America never complained that Affirmative Action was a bad public policy. It became a controversial policy when the Civil Rights Movements used it to demand equal justice for minorities or all Colored people in America.

The civil rights period in the 1960s also put a new twist on Affirmative Action, which came to mean much more than just justice for the poor and minorities but a very politically loaded term that got equal attention at the time just like any other legislation. The term Affirmative Action became a model and policy paradigm; a way of seeing and constructing the world that specifies what is real and important (Kuhn, 1970). …