On Oct. 8, assistant vice president of admissions Jimmie Foster discussed affirmative action in higher education. Affirmative action is defined by the 1965 U.S. Executive Order 112146 and 11375 as “a set of proactive measures to counteract the effects of past and present discrimination, intended or unintended, in employment and program delivery.” It specifically aims to protect women, African Americans, Asians and Pacific islanders, Hispanics or Latinos, American Indians, Vietnam veterans special disabled veterans and individuals with disabilities.
Foster began the event by explaining the history of affirmative action in higher education, including the landmark 1978 Supreme Court case, Regents of the University of California v. Bakke. The court ruled that universities that set aside a fixed number of minority students allowed in the medical universities violated Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. It also ruled that race can factor into admissions decisions, but it cannot have a quota for the number of minority students allowed. The Supreme Court case Grutter v. Bollinger in 2003 also ruled that race can be a small factor when admitting students, but institutions must apply strict scrutiny and consider alternatives to a race conscious admission plan.
Foster went on to discuss the affirmative action policy at the College of Charleston (policy.cofc.edu/documents/12.1.6.pdf). The College uses a plus system as stated by Foster, but with strict scrutiny. Race and gender are not primary factors the College looks at when reviewing applicants. It is instead the potential student’s curriculum and chances of success at the College.
Foster mentioned that over the last three years there has been an incline in students of color at the College. The freshman class of 2013 had approximately 390 students of color.
“The numbers are no where near where they need to be. There’s a lot of work at the hands of folks in admissions and the institution,” Foster said.
While there has been in an incline in students of color at the college, there has also been a decline among African American students beginning in the early 2000s. Foster and the audience examined the cultural climate and context of Charleston and the College that is contributing to the decline. Audience members provided solutions including reaching out to local high schools such as Burke to attract local African American students. Other issues involving diversity including gender imbalance at the College and moving the College’s message beyond history, beaches and charm. Foster urged the audience to be social agents of change in regards to diversity at the college.
“You have to be a politically savvy and caring student body that’s willing to bring things attention to the administration,” Foster said.