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Understanding Affirmative Action

A statue, the alma mater, with trees in the background

What is Affirmative Action?

In 1961, US President John F. Kennedy signed an executive order requiring federally-funded employers to “take affirmative action to ensure that applicants are employed . . . without regard to their race, creed, color, or national origin.” Currently, affirmative action describes a set of laws, policies, and guidelines designed to address the historical marginalization of people of color and women in hiring and admissions processes. As Chancellor Jones has recently said in a massmail to the campus community, the University of Illinois is “fully committed to equal opportunity, affirmative action and equal access to the opportunities we offer” (January 6, 2017).

Rather than focusing on hiring quotas, affirmative action often adopts strategies to increase the underrepresentation of specific groups through recruitment, training, and selection. At the University of Illinois - like most colleges and universities - demographics are considered as one among many qualities and achievements, such as class standing, GPA, and Illinois county. Well aware of its mission as a land-grant institution, the University of Illinois works to encourage application and create programs to increase the representation of Black, Latino, and Native American students to match or exceed that of the state of Illinois.

Affirmative action policies not only address historical and current disparities, but also promote a wider diversity and opportunity across institutions. With wide opportunity gaps in K-12 education, affirmative action creates opportunities for all students to be successful.  At the University of Illinois, increasing diversity in schools and workplaces not only benefits underrepresented individuals, but all students and the University.

Seven Myths About Affirmative Action In Universities Comments by Lee C. Bollinger, President of Columbia University

US Affirmative Action Fast Facts CNN Article on Timeline of Affirmative Action on Campus

President Kennedy’s E.O. 10925: Seedbed of Affirmative Action (Federal Journal, 2010, pp. 42-57)