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The Supreme Court’s Ruling on Affirmative Action: Implications for Diversity and Equality in Higher Education

On June 29, 2023, the US Supreme Court made a significant ruling that curtailed the use of race as a factor in university admissions, just in time for the Fourth of July. Affirmative action has long been employed by many American universities as a means to achieve diversity and promote equality in a country that remains stubbornly unequal. However, the court's Republican majority deemed these programs to violate the Constitution's equal protection clause, effectively ruling that a more equal society is less fair.[0]

Since 1978, universities had been allowed to use affirmative action to create diverse student bodies, and this rule was reaffirmed in 2016. However, the recent ruling has now outlawed the practice, stating that student admissions cannot give race a plus factor.[1] The decision has effectively put an end to race-conscious admissions practices in higher education and eroded four decades of precedent.

The court's ruling was based on the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment, which was created to rectify the inequalities faced by Black Americans.[2] The majority argued that race-conscious admissions practices further entrench racial inequality in education, ignoring the nation's history of racial injustice.[3] Justice Sonia Sotomayor, in her dissent, argued that equality requires acknowledgment of inequality and that the constitutional guarantee of equal protection can be enforced through race-conscious means.[4]

The ruling has raised concerns about the underrepresentation of Black and Latino students at selective and highly selective colleges and universities. These students are still significantly underrepresented in these institutions, as well as in many flagship universities across various states. A study by the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce found that colleges and universities are less likely to meet or exceed their current levels of racial diversity without race-conscious admissions. The absence of these practices also means that these institutions are less likely to reflect the racial makeup of the population graduating from the nation's high schools.[5]

The decision has sparked debate about the impact on students from underserved communities who already face significant barriers to success. Students from lower-income or immigrant backgrounds often lack access to extracurricular activities, college prep resources, and after-school tutoring.[6] Affirmative action has been used as a tool to level the playing field and provide these students with more opportunities for higher education.

The ruling has also drawn attention to the experiences of states like California and Michigan, where affirmative action programs were banned years ago.[7] In these states, there has been a significant drop in the number of Black and Latino students at top-level universities, leading to less diversity and a less diverse space for future leaders. It is expected that the same trend will now be seen across the country as a result of the Supreme Court's decision.

Critics of the ruling argue that colleges and universities should take responsibility for ensuring that their applicant pools include students of color, especially those from segregated school districts with fewer resources. They believe that institutions should implement outreach tactics and other strategies to supplement the lack of affirmative action policies.[8]

In response to the ruling, colleges and universities may need to review their admissions processes and find alternative ways to promote diversity. This could include carefully reviewing essays and interview responses where students demonstrate how their racial identity has influenced their achievements.[9] Institutions could also consider asking for more pointed essays that focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion.[10]

Despite the ruling, some universities are committed to maintaining diversity in their student bodies. The University of Denver, for example, emphasized the importance of diversity and affirmed that the ruling would not weaken its commitment to intentional diversity.[9] Other universities, like the University of Colorado Boulder, plan to continue enrolling diverse students through initiatives that are not banned by the Supreme Court, such as prioritizing recruitment efforts among minority students and expanding scholarships and support services for disadvantaged and first-generation students.[6]

In conclusion, the Supreme Court's recent ruling on affirmative action in university admissions has sparked intense debate and raised concerns about the impact on diversity and equality in higher education. While the decision may have significant consequences for underrepresented students, there is a continued commitment among some institutions to maintain a diverse student body and find alternative ways to promote equity and inclusion. The ruling has highlighted the ongoing struggle for equality in America and the importance of addressing racial disparities in education.

0. “Supreme Court's Affirmative Action Ruling Shows Equality for All Is a Myth” Bloomberg, 30 Jun. 2023, https://www.bloomberg.com/opinion/articles/2023-06-30/supreme-court-s-affirmative-action-ruling-shows-equality-for-all-is-a-myth

1. “Berkeley leaders, scholars react to Supreme Court's decision on affirmative action” UC Berkeley, 29 Jun. 2023, https://news.berkeley.edu/2023/06/29/berkeley-leaders-scholars-react-to-supreme-courts-decision-on-affirmative-action

2. “The Supreme Court's decision to strike down affirmative action means that HBCU investment is more important than …” Brookings Institution, 29 Jun. 2023, https://www.brookings.edu/articles/the-supreme-courts-decision-to-strike-down-affirmative-action-means-that-hbcu-investment-is-more-important-than-ever/

3. “Jamaal Bowman Knows Exactly How to Win the Next Fight Over Affirmative Action” The Nation, 30 Jun. 2023, https://www.thenation.com/article/politics/jamaal-bowman-affirmative-action

4. “Harvard united in resolve in face of Supreme Court's admissions ruling” Harvard Gazette, 29 Jun. 2023, https://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2023/06/harvard-united-in-resolve-in-face-of-supreme-courts-admissions-ruling/

5. “‘Race neutral’ replaces affirmative action. What’s next?” CNN, 1 Jul. 2023, https://www.cnn.com/2023/07/01/politics/affirmative-action-race-neutral-what-matters/index.html

6. “After the Supreme Court rules against affirmative action, Colorado universities, higher education leaders react” Colorado Public Radio, 29 Jun. 2023, https://www.cpr.org/2023/06/29/affirmative-action-scotus-ruling-colorado-universities-leaders-react

7. “Opinion | What's after affirmative action? Perry Bacon and Christine Emba chat.” The Washington Post, 30 Jun. 2023, https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2023/06/30/affirmative-action-colleges-columnists-discuss/

8. “‘A cautionary tale’: colleges in states with affirmative action bans report racial disparities” The Guardian, 30 Jun. 2023, https://www.theguardian.com/law/2023/jun/30/affirmative-action-ban-state-colleges-racial-disparities-supreme-court

9. “Colorado universities committing to diversity after affirmative action decision” The Colorado Sun, 30 Jun. 2023, https://coloradosun.com/2023/06/30/colorado-colleges-universities-affirmative-action

10. “With Supreme Court Decision, College Admissions Could Become More Subjective” The New York Times, 29 Jun. 2023, https://www.nytimes.com/2023/06/29/us/affirmative-action-college-admissions-future.html