The Supreme Court on Oct. 31 heard arguments in two cases that could crush race-based affirmative action in college admissions across the country.
Students for Fair Admissions (SFFA), a nonprofit organization led by conservative activist Edward Blum, filed two lawsuits in court alleging the use of race in the admissions process at Harvard University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC) is discriminatory.
After the procedure The New York Times reported that the court “appeared poised to overturn affirmative action programs” and reverse decades of precedent that have maintained diversity programs at universities across the country.
Jewel Moore, a sophomore communications major and Black Student Union (BSU) treasurer, says scrapping affirmative action in higher education would be another setback for students of color who are already struggling to find representation on campus.
“It’s an attack on education,” Moore said. “Black and brown kids who got better grades than their white peers were sometimes denied access to schools, and it’s just really important to make sure these students have a place in universities that they might not have had before. I don’t even necessarily believe that affirmative action politics has done enough.
“Being a black person in America is not easy, nor is it easy being a black woman. My competence is constantly being questioned, be it in the classroom, in a boardroom – anywhere. Everything I say is constantly being picked apart.”
Moore says she sees the challenges of promoting diversity and community, even under a positive action framework.
“Where’s the black student representation? Where is the second home for black students?” Moore said. “We have the Black Student Union, we have the African Student Association, we have the Caribbean Student Association … But we had to create these spaces as students. These were not given to us by school. These clubs only exist because we pushed for them. So what is the school doing for us?”
In light of the affirmative action deliberations in the Supreme Court, “UB is monitoring the issue very closely from a regulatory and legal perspective,” said UB spokesman John DellaContrada.
The University says that race and ethnicity are currently “considered” factors for selection in the admissions process, but are not considered “important” like other criteria such as academic GPA or standardized test scores.
Registration dates fall 2022 shows that although Asian enrollment has steadily increased to 14.17% this year, only 7.46% of students identify themselves as Black and 7.3% as Hispanic.
Over a 14-year period, neither Black nor Hispanic enrollment exceeded 8% of the total enrolled population.
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“These numbers just prove that we really only accept what’s necessary,” said Brianna Dennis, a senior biologist major. “When we roll [affirmative action] back, you’ll see that number go down even more when it shouldn’t be – it should be going up instead.
Nicolee Jimenez, a junior media studies major, says the elimination of affirmative action and declining diversity numbers are only making it harder for student organizations to create safe communities and welcome experiences for students of color.
“People already don’t feel safe, like they don’t have a community,” Jimenez said. “Any club or association is like a home for people of color.”
While Moore believes positive action can do more, the sophomore doubts that removing racial criteria in college admissions will improve college outcomes.
“I don’t necessarily think that affirmative action politics has done enough,” Moore said. “But should it be eradicated? No, because at the end of the day it was definitely introduced for a reason. Trying to undo this is doing education a disservice.”
Professor Jaekyung Lee, a faculty expert on education policy and inequality, echoed this sentiment by citing affirmative action policy as a crucial part of a broader problem of systemic racial inequality in the US education system.
Lee is suspicious of the SFFA’s characterization of the Affirmative Policy as discriminatory against Asian Americans.
“Asian American is not a monolithic group,” Lee said. “There are many subgroups, ethnic groups, in this category. So treating Asian Americans as a group is very misleading.”
He sees no point in broadly rejecting positive action in the broader debate about improving educational outcomes.
Lee quotes the year 2003 Grutter v. Bollinger Supreme Court case that upheld affirmative action in Michigan Law School admissions after finding race-sensitive admissions under a holistic admissions process were not unconstitutional – similar to processes used by UNC and Harvard.
The court also ruled that racial awareness ultimately served a “compelling interest” for the university and its students by enhancing diversity.
“Improving the diversity of the student body will not only benefit black minority students, but white students as well,” Lee said. “Ultimately, working in similarly diverse environments after graduation helps students prepare.”
Lee hopes the Supreme Court will make similar considerations nearly two decades after the landmark case, and urges students and parents to remain optimistic.
“I definitely hope that given the seriousness of racial inequalities and disparities, the Supreme Court decides to continue supporting affirmative action policies,” Lee said. “But even if not, colleges and universities will certainly find ways to maintain and even improve diversity. There are other types of related factors that you can always look at as a proxy indicator of that.”
For example, parental income and educational history could serve as effective criteria for universities to fill gaps in access to equal opportunities for disadvantaged or underrepresented communities. Funding US schools through local property taxes, for example, provides more funding to schools in more affluent neighborhoods, a system Lee describes as “highly unequal.”
“A lot of the inequalities come from where the students just live,” Lee said. “This zip code determines the quality of their learning opportunities, which is totally unacceptable.”
Lee says COVID-19 and distance learning have exacerbated inequality between low-income and high-income communities as high-income students have had better access to technology, teachers and parental support.
Lee believes that abolishing affirmative action policies would only be justified if racial differences were addressed head-on.
“I see positive action policies as a kind of temporary patch to fix the system of racial inequalities and achievement gaps,” Lee said. “Ideally, we would fix this problem early on with better preschool programs and better K-12 education programs for disadvantaged minority students so that by the time they enter college, there will be no performance differences and no inequalities.”
Moore hopes the university will play a more direct role in the coming months, whether that’s promoting diversity or fighting hate on campus.
She says a sense of dread burns fresh in the memories of black students at UB in last year’s episodes Allen West controversies and the racially motivated mass shooting at an East Side Tops during the spring semester.
“I cried that night. I cried so much because I felt like our voices weren’t being heard and I felt like the university didn’t understand where we were coming from,” Moore said. “I understand that racism is not a dry matter. Everyone has the right to their opinion. But at the end of the day, Affirmative Action was created to fight racism. Although we want a world without racism, a world where we don’t recognize racism, where we say racism is wrong, is a figment of our imaginations.”
Moore believes affirmative action and fostering a diverse student body are important buffers against racial hatred and violence.
“Failing to engage in conversations with people from different backgrounds can leave you deadened to others,” Moore said. “Learning about other people, the struggles they’ve been through, why they are the way they are, helps you be empathetic and understanding about their situations. And without diversity, you won’t get that.”
Kyle Nguyen is Senior News/Feature Editor and can be reached at email@example.com
Kyle Nguyen is Senior News/Features Editor at The Spectrum.