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February 21, 1996

On Affirmative Action

Author Affiliations

From the Vice President for Community and Minority Programs (Dr Nickens) and the President (Dr Cohen), Association of American Medical Colleges, Washington, DC.

JAMA. 1996;275(7):572-574. doi:10.1001/jama.1996.03530310078046

AFFIRMATIVE ACTION is under increasing attack, particularly so since the 1994 off-year elections produced a much more conservative Congress. Affirmative action describes a broad spectrum of activities ranging from aggressive advertising of opportunities at one end, to outright quotas and set-asides at the other. Moreover, affirmative action programs targeted to help women are different from those targeted to help racial and ethnic minorities, and those designed to remedy inequities in education differ from those addressing occupational opportunities or the awarding of contracts. While the affirmative action debate is intense, it remains remarkably ill defined, acting like a societal Rorschach upon which a wide spectrum of individuals can project their fears, grievances, and frustrations. As a "wedge issue," affirmative action has been welded selectively to activities yielding preferences for minorities, ignoring preferences for women, for small businesses, for veterans, and (in college admissions) for the children of alumni and athletes.