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After more than a hundred years of total either almost complete excluding black students and other students of color, the University of North Carolina and Harvard began admitting larger numbers of students, including students of color, in the 1960s and 1970s. For decades, Harvard, UNC, and other universities have had the ability to consider a student’s race along with a wide range of other factors (academic merit, athletics, extracurricular activities, and others) when trying to decide whether to admit a student. But now, the Supreme Court could change all this.
The United States Supreme Court is set to hear two cases related to affirmative action today. If the court strikes down affirmative action, also known as race-conscious admissions policies, it would be unconstitutional for universities across the country to consider a student’s race as a factor in a holistic admissions review process. The American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Massachusetts, and the ACLU of North Carolina filed a brief amicus curiae urging the Supreme Court to uphold the ability of universities to consider race in college admissions early this year.
Below, we answer some of the key questions you need to know about how race-conscious admissions policies work, how students and universities benefit from them, and what’s at stake in the Supreme Court.
Q: What is affirmative action or race-conscious admissions policies?
A: Race-conscious policies, such as affirmative action, aim to address racial discrimination by acknowledging and responding to structural barriers that have denied underrepresented students access to higher education. Race-aware admissions practices allow universities to consider a student’s race as a factor in the admissions process to help create a diverse student body that enriches the educational experiences of all students.
Q: What cases are before the Supreme Court regarding race-conscious admissions policies?
A: There are two cases in which the Supreme Court will consider whether to uphold the ability of universities to consider race in college admissions: Students for Fair Admissions v. President and Fellows of Harvard, Y Students for fair admission v. University of North Carolina. In both cases, the organization Students for Fair Admissions (SFFA), led by anti-affirmative action crusader Edward Blum, is one more time, after previous failed efforts, seeking the removal of all race-conscious admissions practices. The Supreme Court has already twice rejected Blum’s arguments, ruling that colleges can consider race in admissions to promote diversity on campus and enrich the learning experience for students.
Q: What legal rights do universities and colleges have to consider race in the admissions process?
A: Universities have an important interest in student diversity that promotes the values of academic freedom and equal protection. A holistic and race-conscious admissions process is the extension of a university’s academic freedom to bring together a diverse student body. Elimination of consideration of race in admissions conflicts with a university’s ability to select its student body.
In addition, consideration of race in college admissions promotes the values of equal protection under the Constitution by helping to diminish stereotypes, promote integration on college campuses, and enhance the ability of students of all races to participate in the community. academic.
Q: Has the Supreme Court ruled on affirmative action before?
A: Yes. In Fisher v. University of Texas, the Supreme Court reaffirmed that diversity is a “compelling governmental interest,” which allows schools to consider race as a contributing factor to admission to higher education. Time and time again, lower courts and the Supreme Court have recognized this.
Q: How do colleges, universities, and students benefit from affirmative action?
A: Race-conscious admissions policies help create a diverse student body, promote integration on college campuses, and create an inclusive educational environment that benefits all students. Students from diverse backgrounds who learn from one another and are exposed to a variety of experiences, backgrounds, interests, and talents are better prepared to succeed in our society. Banning any consideration of race would hinder the growth of generations of students who will not be prepared for an increasingly diverse nation.
Q: What is at stake if the Supreme Court moves to block race-conscious admissions policies? Will this affect affirmative action efforts in other areas, such as workplaces?
A: A decision that blocks the ability of universities to consider race will almost certainly mean a significant drop in the number of students of color admitted to selective universities. In fact, that’s what the lower courts found in both cases after closely studying various race-neutral alternatives, such as class-based affirmative action or plans similar to Texas’ top 10 percent plan, which guarantees to Texas students who graduated in the top 10 percent of their school class automatic admission to all state-funded Texas universities. Less diverse campuses will harm students of color and white students alike, and set us back in our efforts to overcome the country’s shameful legacy of racism and racial inequality.
A decision banning consideration of race in college admissions could also make it harder for employers to take steps to promote equity and diversify their workforce. Dozens of government programs that address past and current discrimination, promote racial equity, and seek to close the racial wealth gap, such as business incubator programs, could also be put at risk.
Q: What actions can colleges and universities take if the Supreme Court rules to block race-conscious admissions policies?
A: Higher education institutions will still be able to outreach and recruit students of all backgrounds. Universities will still be able to stop considering factors that have been shown to create unjustifiable barriers for historically underrepresented students of color. For example, many schools have already stopped considering the SAT and ACT.
No matter what, we continue to advocate for race-conscious admissions and ensuring that higher education is accessible to all.