Anthony S. Chen: The Forgotten Origins of Race-Conscious Affirmative Action in College Admissions


Monday, December 4, 2017, 12:00pm to 1:45pm


Allison Dining Room
Anthony S. Chen, Associate Professor of Sociology and Political Science, Northwestern University.

Anthony S. ChenThis paper chronicles the advent of race-conscious affirmative action programs in college admissions, and it argues that they should be understood as a product of the early- to mid-1960s. Such programs were initially instituted by a number of racially liberal college administrators who led selective institutions outside the South and who believed that they had a responsibility to constructively engage the larger society in which their institutions were embedded.

What prompted these administrators to take affirmative action was a sense that the “open door” policies of the past were no longer enough, a sense brought on by the mobilization of the civil rights movement. This paper draws on intensive research in a wide range of underutilized or untapped primary sources, including manuscript collections in university archives at Cornell, UCLA, and the University of Michigan.

About the speaker

Anthony S. Chen is a political and historical sociologist. He is interested in the political development of public policy in the United States since the New Deal, and he has special interests in civil rights, social policy, and business-government relations.

In collaboration with Lisa M. Stulberg of New York University, Chen is completing a book on the origins and development of affirmative action in college admissions, the focus of this seminar presentation. Through extensive archival research, he is chronicling the social, political, and intellectual origins of race-conscious affirmative action in college admissions in the early 1960s. Chen hopes that having a clear understanding of the past will help policymakers make sound decisions about affirmative action policy today—and in the future.

He is the author of The Fifth Freedom (Princeton University Press), which offers a new account of how and why affirmative action emerged in employment.

  • Co-winner of the Gladys M. Kammerer Award (2010), American Political Science Association (APSA), for the “best political science publication in the field of U.S. national policy”
  • Co-winner of the J. David Greenstone Award (2010), Politics and History Section, APSA, for the “best book in history and politics in the past two calendar years”
  • Winner of the Best Book Award (2010), Race, Ethnicity, and Politics Section, APSA, for the best book on Public Policy and Race and Ethnic Politics in the U.S.
  • Winner of the President’s Book Award (2008), Social Science History Association, for an “especially meritorious first work by a beginning scholar”

His work has appeared in the American Journal of SociologyJournal of American History, and Studies in American Political Development, among other outlets. Chen is co-editor of Studies in American Political Development.

Chen received his BA from Rice University and his PhD in Sociology from the University of California, Berkeley, where was a Soros Fellow and later a Robert Wood Johnson Scholar in Health Policy Research. Before joining the faculty at Northwestern, Chen was on the faculty for eight years at the University of Michigan, where he taught in the department of sociology and the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy.

Learn more about Anthony Chen's work


See also: Fall 2017