Why Affirmative Action is Critical For Schools | Jim Wickenden | 10 Min Read

November 28, 2022

In November 2022, I was given the opportunity to write about my thoughts regarding affirmative action for colleges and independent schools.  While I eagerly accepted that challenge, I readily admit that asking an 83-year-old white male who benefited from having a privileged life, I may not have much credibility with people of color who were not given the opportunity to attend an all-white male independent boys school, an all-white male college in Bristol England, and an all-white male university in Princeton, New Jersey.  Despite that background, however, I have become a staunch advocate of affirmative action.  Not surprisingly, this transformation took time and involved my learning lessons from various people I respected and admire.  

I’ll start with my father, the former 36-year Headmaster of Tabor Academy.  As much as I admired the job he did in enabling that school to grow from 42 boys when he became the Head of School to 550 boys 36 years later when he retired, I still remember and respect the fact that he made two decisions that required courage.   Right after the conclusion of World War II, Dad admitted a young man from Japan who wanted to learn English and then go on to a university in the United States (Harvard).  Five or six years later, Dad admitted two African American young men.  This stunned many of the citizens of the then-lily-white community of Marion, Massachusetts.

The second step in my moral development occurred in 1957 when I had the opportunity to attend Clifton College in Bristol, England.  As much as I enjoyed and benefited from that experience, I readily admit that I was appalled by two phenomena over which I had no control.  Specifically, I was stunned by the fact that students from India were openly referred to as “Wogs.” That was not a term of endearment.  In addition, I was also taken aback when I learned that all of the Jewish students who lived on campus were required to live in a separate dormitory, and they were required to attend the daily Christian chapel service.  To say that I was a confused “Yank” was an understatement.

The third step towards my moral maturation process occurred when I enrolled as a freshman at Princeton University.  Assuming that my memory has not deteriorated too much, I think that there were only three African American students and a similar number…

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Jim Wickenden

Jim is a Principal at DRG and Founder of Wickenden Associates, an affiliate of DRG. Having been the CEO of one of the premier education executive search firms in the United States, Jim brings unparalleled experience and networks to best serve clients. With over 30 years of experience identifying and guiding Heads of Schools and other senior administrators of schools across the country, Jim approaches each search with flexibility and openness that responds to the individual needs and concerns of schools and their leaders. Before founding Wickenden Associates, Jim served as the Dean of Admissions at Princeton University and Director of Student and Alumni Affairs at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. A graduate of Tabor Academy and Princeton University, Jim holds a master’s degree in Counselor Education from Rutgers University, a master’s degree in the General Purposes of Education from Harvard University, and a doctorate in Counseling Psychology from Boston University. As a former member of eight boards of independent schools with a wide range of missions and resource levels, Jim also knows firsthand the responsibilities shouldered by today’s trustees; and knows how to guide boards through tough transition processes and on good governance practices. Jim lives in Princeton, NJ, and when he is not at the office he enjoys reading enlightening books.