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Scales of Justice

Eastside Students Debate Affirmative Action

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Eastside junior Judge Cantrell is a self-described “big Law and Order fan,” enjoys acting, and says, “I like to argue.” For these reasons, he was excited to participate in a recent mock trial focused on the topic of race-based affirmative action in college admissions.

The trial was part of his “Writing for College” class, which helps juniors develop the research, argumentation, and writing skills they will need to succeed in college. The class includes a unit on affirmative action, in which students first participate in the mock trial to debate the pros and cons of affirmative action, and then write a 10-12 page argumentative essay on the same topic.

Teacher Cal Trembath says the affirmative action unit has been part of “Writing for College” since 1998, when Eastside first had a junior class. Of course, much has changed over the years, but Cal notes that affirmative action is “an incredibly rich and complex topic” and that it remains highly relevant to the students.

Judge echoes this sentiment: “Whether you’re against it or for it, it is constantly a topic of discussion in American society.”

In preparation for the trial, students critically evaluate multiple sources and perspectives. They read book chapters, academic papers, op-eds, and amicus briefs from the Supreme Court. Cal assigns students to roles as attorneys and witnesses for the prosecution or the defense, which means some students end up representing a viewpoint they disagree with.

“We were randomly assigned, and I was really hoping I would get the pro side, but I got the con side,” Judge says. However, the experience helped him better understand a variety of different perspectives, and he still enjoyed the process: “It was a cool exercise for me, especially because I’m an actor.”

Another student, Lupita Diaz, found that she could appreciate a variety of perspectives early in the process. “When I first started, I was very easily able to put myself into the shoes of different authors,” she says. However, as she continued delving deeper into the arguments, her own viewpoint solidified. “As I’ve grown and educated myself, I’ve come to have a strong opinion on affirmative action.”

This year’s trial was a bit different from a typical year in that it was held on Zoom, but Cal says it “went much more smoothly than I had anticipated.”

“The intensity of it was still there,” Lupita says. “We still got the most out of the trial despite it being on Zoom.”

Now that the trials have concluded, Lupita, Judge, and the rest of Cal’s students are turning their attention toward their affirmative action essays. “It’s different than any other paper I’ve had to write,” Judge says. “This is a class that’s supposed to prepare you for college. It’s definitely very daunting, but when it’s all said and done, I think the reward will be worth the struggle.”