Gratz was a plaintiff in the 2003 case Gratz v. Bollinger, and derides comparisons between her and Ms. Kimbrough. Gratz, who is white, was denied admission to the university in favor of under-represented minorities who were accepted, in many cases, with scores below that of her own. Three years after the highest court in the land agreed that the University of Michigan acted unconstitutionally and in a discriminatory manner, she and other proponents successfully pushed for Proposition 2.
Today she is co-founder and CEO of XIV Foundation, an organization named after the 14th Amendment which fights against the use such policies in education, employment, and contracting. Now 37, Gratz has challenged Kimbrough, twenty years her junior, to a debate. Kimbrough, however, is skeptical.
“This wasn’t ever supposed to be about me or my story but everyone loves to see a good spectacle, right?” she said.”I would prefer to talk to people and tell them exactly what I think on some type of common ground, rather than push forward someone else’s agenda.”
While she remains undecided, she notes that Gratz has been studying this for “as long as she’s been alive, and that’s a hell of a leg up.” Despite her youth, she says that knows what she is doing and how to avoid being portrayed as the angry black woman.
“Being black and female in America for 17 years prepared me for the hatred and backlash I received, but there was also a lot of good, particularly from the debate community,” Kimbrough said.
Kate Stenvig, University of Michigan advisor to the Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, Integration, and Immigrant Rights and Fight for Equality by Any Means Necessary (B.A.M.N.), has come to support Ms. Kimbrough and has pledged the full weight of the organization behind her. In addition, both Driver and Gratz have agreed to suggestions that a representative from the civil rights group be on hand to assist and/or supplement Kimbrough if a debate is to occur.
Meanwhile, as Americans on both sides sound off, declining minority enrollment numbers at colleges like the University of Michigan is not up for debate.
According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, undergraduate enrollment of African-Americans, Hispanic-Americans and Native Americans at U-M has dropped significantly over the last decade. These three ethnic groups have also faced declining enrollment numbers at University of California campuses in Los Angeles and Berkeley. This has come after the 1996 ballot-initiative, Proposition 209, a similar state-approved ban on affirmative action.
“It is curious to say that a law that bars a state from discriminating on the basis of race or sex violates the Equal Protection Clause by discriminating on the basis of race,” said Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette, a strong proponent of Proposition 2, in a legal brief on the case.
“There is no authority in the Constitution of the United States or in this Court’s precedents for the Judiciary to set aside Michigan laws that commit this policy determination to the voters,” said Justice Anthony Kennedy on the ruling.
Shanta Driver, National Chair of By Any Means Necessary, begs to differ.
“Everyone knows that there is the ability to stop unequal representation in this country,” said Driver. “As America becomes a majority-minority nation the Supreme Court has decided to defend privilege and abandon the fight for equality and the rights of opportunity for black, Latino-Latino, Native American, and other minority citizens of this nation.”
Driver called today’s ruling “racist” and successfully advocated for the 2003 Supreme Court Grutter v. Bollinger decision (5-4) which supported affirmative action policies at the University of Michigan Law School. Driver believes that any college that uses a holistic approach to admissions should have a criteria that looks at the real-world obstacles and total life experience that blacks, Latino-Latinos, and African-Americans have to overcome to be at the top of their graduating class.
Officials from U-M have since told the Associated Press that a series of meetings between administrators and the Black Student Union have produced several steps intended to increase the percentage of black students. These steps include encouragement, increased off-campus transportation and improving the Trotter Multicultural Center. Tuesday’s rally came two months after a sit-in at the undergraduate library in February, which did not receive media attention.
“I think that me being rejected gave a platform for the conversation of the declining black, Latino/a, Southeast Asian, Native American, etc. populations in education to be a big issue,” Kimbrough said.
The experience has dissuaded her from pursuing admission to the university she feels she deserves to get into, but says she’s not “some noble character” and is now inspired. Together with B.A.M.N., Kimbrough is glad she got the ball rolling on racial and class bias and feels their actions help reinvigorate movements against oppression she thought were dying out.
“I have awakened in me [an enthusiasm] that I will never stop fighting for,” Kimbrough said. “I along, with countless minority students, have already won; the conversation is being forced on the public.”