Earlier today, the United States Supreme Court voted 6-2, with Justice Elena Kagan abstaining, to uphold a controversial ban on affirmative action policies in the college admissions process.
The decision comes after years-long contention over a 2006 Michigan ballot initiative, Proposition 2, which banned the use of affirmative action in higher education. Voters approved the measure after the 2003 U.S. Supreme Court decision (6-3) in Gratz v. Bollinger which banned the use of such policies at the University of Michigan. The news is a blow to advocates who claim colleges such as U-M have had dwindling minority enrollment.
Yet today’s ruling may hit home the most for a 17-year-old Detroit high-schooler inundated with the weight of the national spotlight.
Her name is Brooke Kimbrough, 17-year-old University Preparatory Academy senior, who applied to the university with accomplishments including a 3.6 GPA, a score of 23/36 on the ACT standardized test and a national tournament win in late February as part of her high school’s debate team. Having gone national for the second year in a row, Kimbrough and partner Rayvon Dean were the first African-Americans to win the University of California-Berkley tournament, winning 11 of 13 rounds and pushing their school to rank seventh in the United States.
Not one to shy from a challenge, the Motor City senior says she’s taking a stand against the University of Michigan not just for her, but the hundreds of other minority applicants to the “Harvard of the Midwest” she views as under-represented.
“People have their lens focused on me and it should be on the virtual absence of brown, red and black bodies on the campus,” Kimbrough said to theGrio.
Kimbrough staged a rally last Tuesday at her high school with Daisha Martin, president of the Black Student Union at Birmingham Seaholm High School, who was also rejected. The two invited the news media to the scene as they carried bullhorns and posters, determined to change their fate. Kimbrough plans to document and publicize rejection letters from other minorities and thinks the questions that have since been raised are the wrong ones.
“Most people are answering the question of whether there is an issue of under-representation of blacks, Latinos, Native Americans and Southeast Asians in most public universities; thats a given!” she said. “The facts are non-negotiable, what you should be asking is what’s the best option to address the racial apartheid of our student demographic.”
According to publicly available demographic data from the main campus of the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, 5 percent of the incoming freshmen class in Fall 2013 identified as African-American, compared to 69.2 percent who identified as white, 14.8 percent as Asian-American, 4.5 percent as Hispanic American, 1.2 percent as Native American or Pacific Islander, 8.3 percent as other designations, and 4 percent listed as as non-resident aliens.
Comparatively, the 2010 United States Census Bureau lists the percentage of African-Americans living in the state of Michigan to be 14.2 percent versus figures of 76.6 percent listed as white, 2.4 percent as Asian-American, 4.4 percent as Hispanics or Latinos, 2.2 percent as Native American, Pacific Islander or other designations, and multiracial individuals at 2.3 percent.
The elite status of U-M as an intellectual powerhouse has not gone unnoticed, with many critics of Ms. Kimbrough stating that her academic prowess is below that of the typical freshman admitted to the University last year. The average freshmen on the campus earned a GPA of 3.8-3.9 and an ACT score of 28-32.
Supporters note that Kimbrough was a well-rounded student serving as president of her high school’s National Honor Society chapter and a participant in a youth leadership program at Alternatives for Girls, a Detroit non profit, in addition to her aforementioned accomplishments. U-M insists it possesses a comprehensive and holistic admissions process despite the ban on affirmative action.
“This woman is standing up for group rights and asking for preferential treatment based on race while others are discriminated against, she wants unequal treatment,” said Jennifer Gratz in a comment on the Detroit News website. “Ms. Kimbrough is fighting because she wasn’t accepted; I fought because of discrimination in the admissions process, a major difference.”