In the United States, “positive discrimination has made it possible to increase the proportion of blacks and Hispanics among the students of the best universities”

In the United States, universities have introduced affirmative action measures in favor of African-Americans since the 1960s. But they are indirect, and some states have reverted to these programs, explains Daniel Sabbagh, research director at the Research Center International (CERI) from Sciences Po and specialist in the subject.

When did the United States start collecting ethnic statistics?

In the broad sense, from 1790, as part of the census. Originally, enumerators were responsible for recording “race” in their records, based on their own findings – without necessarily asking the people concerned. In 1970, this collection method was replaced by self-declaration. A change unrelated to the civil rights movement, motivated solely by budgetary considerations: sending these questionnaires by post was cheaper than the systematic sending of enumerators in the field.

Under what circumstances have American universities introduced affirmative action?

In the face of the civil rights movement and in response to the wave of “race riots” observed in many American cities from 1964 to 1968, some universities have instituted affirmative action programs. An example is Princeton [New Jersey], where in 1968, a year after riots in neighboring Newark, the number of African-American first-year students tripled. These universities have acted in a dispersed manner, in a decentralized manner, and the initiatives launched have sometimes taken the form of quotas.

In 1978, the Bakke judgment of the Supreme Court established the unconstitutionality of these racial quotas, with rare exceptions. On the other hand, it authorized the programs ofaffirmative action flexible and informal in nature and intended to promote the “diversity” of the student body, including ethnoracial diversity.

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In 2003, a new Supreme Court ruling clarified that, in addition to quotas, the automatic award to black or Hispanic candidates of a predefined number of additional points was unconstitutional. However, the Court endorsed the principle of informal affirmative action aimed at reaching a “critical mass” of black and Hispanic students, without further clarification.

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