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From: J. Brian Charles
Subject: Race on Campus: Admissions after affirmative action
Welcome to Race on Campus. In a decision that surprised few in the world of higher education, The U.S. Supreme Court on June 29 struck down the use of race as a factor in college admissions. This week, we examine the ruling’s implications. If you have ideas, comments, or questions about this newsletter, write to me:
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Welcome to Race on Campus. In a decision that surprised few in the world of higher education, The U.S. Supreme Court on June 29 struck down the use of race as a factor in college admissions. This week, we examine the ruling’s implications. If you have ideas, comments, or questions about this newsletter, write to me: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Four takeaways from last month’s monumental decision
The race-informed admissions process at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill was found to violate the equal-protection clause of the 14th Amendment and Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which prohibits any institution receiving federal aid or assistance from discriminating against a person based on race. In the court’s majority opinion, the considerations given to Black and Latino applicants discriminated against white and Asian American applicants. In a second case, the court decided that Harvard College’s admissions procedures denied educational opportunities to Asian American and white students, which also violates Title VI.
The decision marks a drastic change going forward in the way admissions decisions will be made at selective colleges. No, college-admissions officers can’t consider the racial composition of the campus and of the applicant pool when deciding whom to admit. But race isn’t completely off the table in higher-education access. The landscape has dramatically shifted.
Here are four things from the Supreme Court’s decision to consider:
Students can still talk about race.
The Supreme Court’s decision on race-informed admissions was aimed squarely at colleges. They can’t use race on a blanket basis when considering applicants. That doesn’t mean students can’t bring up race on their own applications; the conservative majority on the court was clear on this point. In the majority opinion, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. wrote that “nothing in this opinion should be construed as prohibiting universities from considering an applicant’s discussion of how race affected his or her life, be it through discrimination, inspiration, or otherwise.”
Roberts went on to write:
“A benefit to a student who overcame racial discrimination, for example, must be tied to that student’s courage and determination. Or a benefit to a student whose heritage or culture motivated him or her to assume a leadership role or attain a particular goal must be tied to that student’s unique ability to contribute to the university. In other words, the student must be treated based on his or her experiences as an individual — not on the basis of race.”
While affirmative action intended to account for racialized gaps in resources and opportunities, the Roberts court wants minority candidates to demonstrate how they overcame those obstacles through “courage and determination.” The obstacles don’t matter; it’s how hard you push through them.
But colleges should be careful.
So if the student can bring up race, then the colleges just need to listen. Let the kids do the talking, right? Wrong. The court said colleges should not come up with a workaround in violation of the court’s decision on affirmative action. Right after Roberts introduces the idea that students can mention race, he immediately warns colleges against trying to maneuver past the court’s decision. Roberts writes that “universities may not simply establish through application essays or other means the regime we hold unlawful today.”
And the legal strategist for the plaintiffs in both the Harvard and UNC cases is watching and has already threatened legal action. Edward J. Blum, president of Students for Fair Admissions, has vowed to take legal action against any college that ignores or circumvents the court’s ruling.
“The law will not tolerate direct proxies for racial classifications,” Blum told Reuters. “We remain vigilant and intend to initiate litigation should universities defiantly flout this clear ruling.”
The Proxy Wars will persist.
So race in admissions is out, but looking at wealth and income is not. Colleges have targeted and can continue to target ZIP codes with high concentrations of poverty and high schools with a higher-than-average number of students from impoverished families. While some have suggested that recruiting kids from poor families can keep selective colleges diverse, research suggests relying on family income won’t necessarily make colleges as diverse as a race-based process. While Black Americans are disproportionately represented at the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder, only 31 percent of the children living in the bottom quartile of the income distribution are Black. That’s based on 2019 Federal Reserve data. If a selective university wanted to focus on the bottom half of the income distribution, Black children make up less than a quarter of those kids. In short, these strategies are colorblind. Recruiting poor kids won’t lead to more Black and Latino students on college campuses, some experts theorize, because the sheer number of white children living in poverty is so high.
Will legacy admissions fall next?
Four days after the Supreme Court struck down the use of race in college admissions, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights that calls for an end to legacy admissions — preferential treatment for applicants who are related to a donor or alumnus of the college where they are applying. The NAACP joined with the plaintiffs and asked more than a thousand colleges to end the practice. Legacy applicants are overwhelmingly white and affluent. And, according to the admissions data Harvard disclosed in the Supreme Court case, legacy applicants are six times more likely than other applicants to be admitted.
—J. Brian Charles
- Years after bison were systematically slaughtered in the late 1700s, Indigenous tribes in the U.S. and Canada have slowly built their herds back up. The animals were important on tribal land because tribes relied on bison for food and rituals. (The New York Times)
- In this opinion essay, Jay Caspian Kang argues that Asian Americans have largely been left out of the conversation after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that race-conscious college admissions practices are unconstitutional. Asian Americans originally sued Harvard College and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill alleging discrimination in the admissions process. (The New Yorker)