The Society for the
Study of Social Issues

Affirmative action and psychology

27 February 2012

Last Tuesday the U.S. Supreme Court announced that it would hear the evidence from Fisher v. University of Texas on a case of affirmative action. The plaintiff claims that the university’s affirmative action policy favors minority students for the top performing 10% of its state-based student intake without making consideration of race factors explicit, and so violates the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution.  The Supreme Court’s review may reverse its 2003 decision in favor of affirmative action in Grutter v. Bollinger.

SPSSI has a strong history of bringing empirical studies of human behavior to bear on issues in education particularly those with the dimension of discrimination. SPSSI testified in the case of Brown v. Board of Education in 1954. The area is an important one for social scientists. According to Crosby and Clayton (2001) in the journal Analysis of Social Issues and Public Policy “affirmative action is ideally suited to benefit from psychological research pertaining to the need for and effectiveness of the policy.”

Supporters of affirmative action in education have pointed out that understanding of historical and social context is vital to framing the application of equal opportunity policies. These contexts will feature strongly in the Supreme Court’s examination and so social science of discrimination and educational development will be under the microscope at a national level once again.

The American Psychological Association has defined affirmative action as being when “an organization expends energy to make sure there is no discrimination in employment or education and, instead, equal opportunity exists.” It is an important area of science and one which can highlight the ongoing need for sound policies that reflect a commitment to ensuring progress and individual and social development equally across the demographic divides in society.

Alex Ingrams
SPSSI Policy Coordinator


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Research that produces nothing but books will not suffice.
                                                                                                                    - Kurt Lewin