The history of affirmative action in Idaho

Niamh Brennan | The Arbiter

The Supreme Court of the United States ruled against affirmative action on June 29, in a case brought forward against Harvard University on the basis that affirmative action unfairly favored applicants on the basis of race. 

Affirmative action first began with President John F. Kennedy in 1961. The intent of affirmative action is to ensure that minorities are actively included and considered for both jobs and education. 

Idaho has its own history and laws regarding affirmative action. Even before the Supreme Court decision, affirmative action was banned in Idaho. The Governor of Idaho had issued an executive order establishing affirmative action in 2004, along with preference for veterans in state employment.

In 2020 affirmative action was banned in Idaho. The ban was signed into law by Governor Brad Little. 

In an email to The Arbiter from Mike Sharp, director of Media Relations, Boise State provided an official statement on affirmative action.

“Boise State’s admissions decisions are based on academic achievement, consistent with state law that preceded the ruling. We have and will continue to care for all members of our Bronco community,” the email stated. 

Boise State has a majority white student population as of 2021, with 72.6% white, 12.9% Hispanic or Latino, 2.64% Asian and 1.55% Black or African American.

According to Dora Ramirez, director of Ethnic Studies at Boise State, affirmative action has had a positive impact on minority communities in the past. It has helped women and other minorities get jobs and an education.

Niamh Brennan | The Arbiter

“I do think that it has made universities aware of the demographics, aware of the kind of students that they are teaching and so I do feel that it has helped,” Ramirez said.

 Affirmative action has more success in some schools and with certain demographics than others, according to Ramirez. Many engineering programs still struggle with recruiting women, and minorities face unique barriers in getting access to education and jobs. 

“I mean, starting from day one, you know, a lot of communities of color are segregated,” Ramirez said. 

Ramirez believes the way schools are funded creates segregated communities based on race and class. 

“Certain schools get more money than other schools and they do that by wealth. If your community is wealthy, then you get more money for your schools. So if your community is not you get less,” Ramirez said. “Then that happens, because minorities tend to be segregated into areas that are not seen as areas that you want to live in. That becomes that kind of class structure that then weakens some schools and strengthens others.”

According to Ramiriez, college education opens up more opportunities for minority students that would not otherwise be available to them. 

“It offers them a way to not just higher education, also jobs that have been, you know, historically restricted,” Ramirez said. “But it also offers a way to gain or to build some kind of generational wealth for their family”

Ramirez believes that Idaho’s ban on affirmative action has impacted students’ views of the state.

“That gives a certain kind of reputation with students. And so I think a lot of students might not want to come to Boise State University because of that,” Ramirez said. “But at the same time, I know that Boise State is trying to make sure that these laws don’t affect a student’s ability to get into college.” 

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