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What will American college campuses look like in the decades to come? That’s an open question now that the Supreme Court has restricted the use of race-conscious admissions in higher education.
Upending decades of legal precedent, the court on Thursday struck down affirmative action programs at Harvard and the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. The ruling raised broad questions about how universities will now create diverse student bodies that reflect American society.
In Can Race Be a Factor in College Admissions? SCOTUS Reconsiders Affirmative Action we spoke to Michael Wang, who became an outspoken advocate for Asian Americans in 2013 after he was denied admission at several elite universities. Wang filed complaints to the U.S. Department of Education, which helped to fuel the two lawsuits brought before the court. These suits were brought by Students for Fair Admissions, a group founded by Edward Blum, who has organized several challenges to racial preference laws.
Wang said his goal at the time was to see whether elite universities were using race as a negative factor to discriminate against Asian Americans, but he was also concerned that S.F.F.A.’s lawsuits might ultimately overturn affirmative action.
“I think affirmative action is still very necessary in helping minorities who actually do need it,” he told Retro Report before the court’s ruling. “Maybe there’s one problem with implementation. That doesn’t mean that we toss affirmative action out the door. There is a middle ground.”
On Thursday, Wang said he felt the majority opinion focused on his question but left many unknowns. The ruling “still opens the door for new policies to come in,” Wang said. “Now is the question that I was concerned about: What next? Where do we go from here? What will those policies look like?”
A desire for student body diversity was at the heart of the Supreme Court’s ruling in 2003 in Grutter v. Bollinger, a goal that Justice Sandra Day O’Connor spoke of at the time as “a compelling state interest.”
Students today can still highlight how race has affected them in their college applications, but the new ruling has complicated the way universities may consider it. David Hinojosa, who defended U.N.C.’s admission policies before the court, pointed out that the ruling does not prevent universities from using race as a factor, but rather makes it a “heck of a lot harder.”
“This decision will have a very real effect on hurting the chances of Black, Latinx and Asian American student applicants in getting into elite colleges,” Professor Margaret Chin, a Harvard graduate and sociology professor at Hunter College said Thursday. “Allowing a student to consider their own racial, ethnic and other identities should help foster an inclusive environment, but not everyone will write that narrative.”
Muskaan Arshad, co-lead of the Harvard Affirmative Action Coalition, noted that the decision left consideration of an applicant’s gender, place of origin, athleticism and legacy status intact. If Edward Blum and his organization were concerned about a fair admissions process, Arshad said in an interview with Retro Report, those factors “would have been the first things they would have targeted.”
“Harvard for the longest time did not allow people of color, women, marginalized communities to roam its halls,” she said. “This decision feels like we’re taking a step back to that time once more.”
KIT R. ROANE is the producer of “Can Race Be a Factor in College Admissions? SCOTUS Reconsiders Affirmative Action.” Find our lesson plan related to this video here, and access our full U.S. Supreme Court Collection here.