Jennifer Gratz, plaintiff in Gratz v. Bollinger, a 2003 U.S. Supreme Court case challenging the University’s race-based admissions policies that were in place, spoke to more than 150 people at North Quad Residence Hall Tuesday night.
Student organization Young Americans for Liberty hosted the event, which was held in a large classroom that was standing room only. Outside, a crowd holding signs and chanting through megaphones protested Gratz’s views on affirmative action.
During the talk Gratz discussed the history of her case as well as current events surrounding affirmative action. Students and visitors from surrounding areas — including several high-school and middle-school students from Detroit — asked her questions and gave their opinions on the issue, at times raising their voices and engaging in arguments with Gratz.
Gratz’s talk came after the Supreme Court heard oral arguments Oct. 15 for Schuette v. Coalition, which seeks to reverse the 2006 ballot initiative that amended the Michigan Constitution to ban race and gender consciousness in college admissions, commonly called proposal 2.
Gratz sued the University in 1997 after she applied and was denied admission to the College of Literature, Science and the Arts in 1995. At the time, the University used a 150-point scale to evaluate applicants, and 100 points were needed to guarantee admission. While a perfect ACT or SAT score was 12 points, a 20-point bonus was given to applicants who identified as African-American, Hispanic or Native American.
In her remarks, Gratz suggested that University’s definition of diversity is too limited to race.
“If the director of diversity was here right now, he or she couldn’t tell you how many cello players there were,” Gratz said. “She couldn’t tell you how many redheads there were. But she damn well could tell you how many Blacks, how many Hispanics, how many Native Americans there are. That right there is what they mean when they say diversity.”
Though it’s often alleged and the Court has opined that the policies benefit the entire campus by increasing the perspectives available, Gratz finds them unjust and against the constitutional value of equality.
“It argued that I should, for the good of society, accept discrimination,” she said. “We should be working toward the promise of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. We should be judging people based on their character and their merits, not based on their skin color or their sex.”
Gratz v. Bollinger was heard by the Supreme Court in 2003, where it was found unconstitutional to have a point system based on one’s race. However, on the same day, a decision was made for Grutter v. Bollinger, which questioned the legality of affirmative action admissions policies at the University Law School. Law School policies were found constitutional because it employed a holistic rather than formulaic approach to admissions.
“On the day where I had this great personal victory, I literally felt the weight of an entire movement on my shoulders,” she said. “It was a lonely battle.”
Liana Mulholland, a Detroit resident and University alum, attended the talk because she is an organizer for By Any Means Necessary, a national organization with membership on campus that fights for affirmative action, equality and immigration rights.
“This is something I’ve been fighting for since I was 13,” she said. “As someone who grew up in Detroit and went to public schools in the city and the suburbs, I really got to see that there are real separate and unequal conditions in our society.”
LSA sophomore Cody Chipman, YAL co-president, said they had Gratz speak because she represents views of the organization.
“We try to have a mix between intellectual discussion as well as activism and hosting speakers like Jennifer,” he said.
Gratz said her movement is far from over.
“Our government needs to say we judge people based on content of character not color of skin,” Gratz said. “That’s what I fight for.”