Student Story: Race-Blind College Admissions Will Decrease Diversity, Increase Exclusion

Commentary By: Jennifer Duran, Camden Academy Charter High School, Camden

SOUTH JERSEY – Affirmative action has been a long-contested topic since President John F. Kennedy first proposed the concept in an executive order he signed in 1961. The debate over whether or not affirmative action is fair is divided, with proponents arguing that it has opened doors for underrepresented students and opponents countering that “you can’t fix racism with more racism.” 

On June 29th, the Supreme Court ruled that colleges and universities can no longer consider race as a factor in the admissions process. The decision to overturn such a long-standing precedent was said to be because it violated the equal-protection clause under the US Constitution. This conclusion has sparked much concern for diversity and inclusion in higher education. 

Devon Westhill of the Center for Equal Opportunity asserts that the court’s ruling will benefit all students by, “…Ending preferential treatment that undermined principles of fairness and equality and minority students’ dignity.” Westhill says, “Individuals didn’t achieve their successes solely because of their own hard work, talent, and passion—like Whites or Asian Americans must—but instead, were likely boosted past equally or better-qualified individuals because of their race.” 

With this being said, it is crucial to acknowledge how disproportionately racist and classist American schooling is. Deficits in K–12 education, which are typically present in historically underserved regions, undoubtedly affect Black and Latino students’ access to higher education. The disproportionate effects of these and other educational injustices on Black and Latino students’ learning inevitably influence college admissions decisions that heavily rely on traditional merit-based measures.

Conversely, Kim Forde-Mazrui from the University of Virginia School of Law writes that the court’s ruling is perverse because it, “…holds, in effect, that the Constitution’s guarantee of equality prohibits rectifying inequality.” Forde-Mazrui continues stating, “It’s simply impossible to remedy generations of racial oppression without proactively providing opportunities to members of the races that were oppressed.”

Furthermore, as Erwin Chemerinsky stated in a law review regarding affirmative action debates, “The simple reality is that our race matters in our background, our heritage, the way we are treated, and the way we perceive the world.” Thus, it isn’t the most logical to insist that color-blind policies be followed even where color matters greatly.

So what does this all mean for students in South Jersey? Students in South Jersey may be impacted by the ban on affirmative action as a result of an expected decrease in diversity. There is no doubt that diversity enhances the overall educational experience for all students. Without it, a welcoming learning environment on campus is heavily at risk. In Regents of the University of California v. Bakke, Justice Lewis Powell asserted that colleges and universities have a keen interest in having a diverse student body. In a perfect world, such diversity would exist through race-blind admissions. However, due to the legacy of discrimination, this is still not the case, hence affirmative action being utilized to promote diversity.   

In further explanation, affirmative action programs in higher education were created specifically to address the issues of racial exclusion, legally mandated segregation, and enrollment quotas that limited the number of non-white or other minority students who could enroll in colleges and universities nationwide. Many of the enrollment discrepancies and imbalances we still witness today at many universities are a result of this history of discrimination. Getting rid of affirmative action will possibly worsen this imbalance even more.

Additionally, the ban will leave students not as hopeful about getting into higher institutions. Students might feel the need to rethink their list of schools to apply to because they just don’t feel confident enough that they’ll get in.  There is also the possibility that some students will feel like they don’t belong. 

Nonetheless, students should not let the court’s ruling discourage them. Instead, they should continue to apply to schools of their choice and develop their applications in the best way they can. Applying to college may be exceedingly difficult and confusing this year, but it’s essential that students find help and guidance going forward.

On another note, because race-conscious admissions are no longer an option, colleges and universities are now forced to look for alternative strategies to create racial diversity on campus. Although schools can increase their outreach and recruitment efforts in underserved areas, these race-neutral initiatives take a lot of time. They are not just tricky, but they also have little chance of regaining the inclusionary progress made possible by affirmative action.

Thus, recognizing the ongoing difficulties faced by underrepresented racial and ethnic groups is critical. We must continue to advocate for holistic solutions that consider the importance of race in admissions procedures. 

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