Jennifer Gratz was turned away from the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor in 1995. The white high school honor student suspects she would have been admitted if she were black or Hispanic.
Eleven years later, in a campaign Gratz helped set in motion, Michigan voters will decide whether to bar the state government from using race and gender to determine who gets into college, who gets hired and who receives contracts.
The proposal to ban affirmative action has survived more than two years of legal challenges to get on the November ballot. It is similar to measures approved by the voters in recent years in California and Washington state.
Measure has a chance
The measure is opposed by both the Democratic and Republican candidates for governor and a slew of business, labor, educational and religious groups. But recent polls indicate it has a chance.
"This is an effort to use Michigan as part of a campaign to try and roll back progress and roll back affirmative action," warned Marc Morial, president of the National Urban League and a former New Orleans mayor. "Michigan is being used as a political pawn. This is not the only stop on the retrenchment train. There will be another state next year."
Gratz, 29, eventually attended the University of Michigan-Dearborn, rather than the more prestigious main campus in Ann Arbor.
"No one should ever have to wonder if they are in a position or were rejected for a position because of their skin color or their sex," Gratz said.
U.S. Supreme Court ruling
Lawsuits filed by Gratz and others against the University of Michigan led to a 2003 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that upheld an affirmative action policy at the university's law school but struck down the undergraduate policy as too rigid because it awarded admission points based on race.
That ruling became one of the driving forces behind the ballot measure.
Opponents of the measure - including executives from groups as varied as General Motors Corp., the Michigan Catholic Conference, state universities and the NAACP - say it would lead to the elimination of programs that help women and minorities break into certain career fields.
The proposal would not ban affirmative action at businesses or private universities. But some worry that private employers would scrap their affirmative action programs if the government ended its own efforts.