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 Supreme Court Weighs Future of Affirmative Action

In October this year, Edward Blum, the conservative activist behind Students For Fair Admissions (SFFA), filed an appeal with the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit. The suit claims that Harvard discriminates against Asian Americans in its admission policies and treats Asian American applicants worse than white applicants.

The Supreme Court’s decision on (SFFA) v. Harvard and SFFA v. University of North Carolina on October 31, will fundamentally change the college admission landscape well into the future.

Abolish Affirmative Action

On TikTok, Charles Jung who goes by @Chasjung, says that Blum filed the suit to abolish affirmative action primarily to help white student applicants. 

“Let’s be clear about what this case is not,” says Chasjung, pointing out the case is not authentically led by Asian Americans. “It’s led by a longtime crusading conservative, who failed to achieve what he wanted using a white female applicant.”

In 2016, three Supreme Court justices supported Blum in an earlier case against the University of Texas at Austin, when he filed a lawsuit on behalf of a white female applicant called Abigail Fisher.

Using an Asian Face to Fight A Case

Chasjung accused Blum of using an Asian face to fight his case. “For years Blum has been on a crusade against affirmative action and this year the Supreme court may grant him his wish.”

@chasjung

Why did this man need “Asian plaintiffs”? He wants to kill affirmative action. #affirmativeaction #supremecourt #ussc

♬ original sound – charlesjung

Race in admissions policies and education access for students of color is at stake in both cases. The  Supreme Court will hear them separately, but the two cases will determine the future of affirmative action. 

However, panelists at a discussion hosted by EMS (Ethnic Media Services) voiced their support for affirmative action.

Discrimination vs Affirmative Action

“Discrimination is different from admission policies that seek to ensure equal access based on race representation,” said John C. Yang, President, and CEO, of Asian Americans Advancing Justice | AAJC. “We are facing a spike in hate against Asian Americans but we support affirmative action in the college admissions process.” 

Sally Chen, a Harvard graduate and first-generation college grad is one of the people in the Harvard Case who testified in favor of race conscious affirmative action

“Affirmative action helped me tell my story in my admissions application,” she said. “Refusing to see race is refusing to see me. It gives us context. The second reason why I testified in support of affirmative action was because I saw the impact of race conscious admission on my actual learning experience. Having diverse perspectives at the table really made our education stronger. Cross racial coalition building is key to what I do today,” said Chen. 

No Evidence of Discrimination

Yang reiterated that the evidence against Harvard did not hold up. “If we saw discrimination against Asian Americans at Harvard we would be among those suing Harvard University for that discrimination,” he said. “At the end of the day when we looked at the evidence, when the district court looked at the evidence, when the appellate court looked at the evidence, we all came to the conclusion that there was no discrimination against Asian Americans.”

According to Yang, Asian-American enrollment in Harvard has increased significantly to 28% of the most recently admitted class even though they make up only 7% of the overall American population.

Experts voiced concern about the possible elimination of affirmative action.

Eliminating Consideration of Race

“Eliminating the consideration of race will have quite an impact,”  said Michaele Turnage-Young, Senior Counsel Legal Defense Fund. “At Harvard, experts expect the number of Black, LatinX, Native American, Hawaiian and Pacific Islander students to be reduced by nearly 50% or nearly 1000 students over the course of 4 years. Most of these students will be replaced by white students and not Asian American students,” she said.  

Twenty five Harvard student and alumni organizations, represented by the Legal Defense Fund (LDF), filed an amicus brief asking the Court to uphold over 40 years of precedent, holding that it is legally permissible to consider race as one of many factors in admissions to higher education.

South Asian support for diversity in higher education came from Shruthi Kumar and Ali Makani, Co-Presidents, Harvard South Asian Association,  who recognized its importance in cultivating an environment that helps produce thoughtful and conscious citizens and leaders. Though the admissions system has its flaws, they unequivocally condemned efforts by SFFA to undo or limit affirmative action on campus. 

Diversity in Higher Education

“Race-conscious admissions has the unique advantage of creating a diverse campus experience that recognizes intellect beyond the traditional metrics of grade point averages and standardized test scores,” they said.  

Kumar and Makani hoped the Supreme Court would uphold precedent and continue to deem race-conscious admissions to be legal. They said that SFFA’s case against Harvard risked the wellbeing and representation of students of color, and cautioned that, if successful, the outcome “would rob many college campuses of diverse and valuable contributions to scholarship, research, and innovation.”

Placard from Harvard Rally: courtesy Youtube

According to a study, said Turnage-Young, Asian American and While applicants’ chances of admission would increase by only one percentage point even if Harvard removed every single Black and LatinoX applicant from its applicant pool.  In 2020-21, Black students formed 13.3% of US high school graduates but just 5.63 % of students enrolled in large selective public colleges. In fact, a petitioner in the Harvard case admitted in an early court filing that the admission of black and Latinx students cannot explain the alleged discrimination against Asian American applicants.

Being Race Blind is not the Answer

“There simply aren’t enough black applicants and Latinx applicants to make much of a difference in anyone’s chances.,” said Turnage-Young.

Judge Allison Burroughs had ruled earlier that the school’s race-conscious application process does not unduly burden Asian Americans, as a lawsuit alleged, and allows it “to achieve a level of robust diversity that would not otherwise be possible, at least at this time.” 

“You can’t address racism by being race blind,” said Chen.

Ritu Marwah

Ritu Marwah is an award-winning author ✍️ and a recognized Bay Area leader in the field of 🏛 art and literature. A California reporting and engagement fellow at USC Annenberg’s Center for Health...