A university graduate in robes covers her eyes
A university graduate covers her eyes (Photo by Honey Yanibel Minaya Cruzs on Unsplash)

Widespread Student Concern

“I’m scared for the future of my school,” says Rupal Gala, an undergraduate at the University of California. “It’s not just admissions under attack, it’s the whole educational experience.”

Gala was reacting to the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision to strike down affirmative action, a policy in place to take into account racial background in college admissions. That verdict, on June 29, in the cases of Students for Fair Admissions, Inc. v. the President and Fellows of Harvard College and the University of North Carolina, cites the 14th Amendment, stating that Affirmative Action is in violation of equal opportunity for all races. 

What does the ruling mean for students of color?

In light of the recent decision, college students everywhere are reeling from the news of a new normal in America. This shift begs the question: What does this ruling mean not just for underrepresented minorities, but students of color everywhere? 

University students are looking at the whole picture. Although already admitted into college, they are anxious about what the decision could mean for future application processes, in the workplace and otherwise.

Gala, like many other students, is anxious about the environment in schools that might arise from the court’s decision. He asks what values may become prevalent in an academic setting. Will removing Affirmative Action pave the way for racial discrimination toward minority groups? Will school diversity be at risk? 

Gala says he loves interacting with different types of people with diverse perspectives to learn more about the world. He’s worried that dynamic may be compromised within the new status quo. 

How will college applications change?

Students are teeming with questions about how new admissions processes will affect future generations. 

Viviswat Nawal applied to college in 2021, the first year when SATs weren’t mandated for many university applications.

“Applying to college will be a different experience for everyone. Recently, SATs and tests like that were less important in applications. Now I’m just wondering: what are they going to look for?” he asks.  

Nawal felt it was important to capture other elements of his experiences in his application, outside of his strictly academic track record. With the SCOTUS decision, now he wonders, “If they aren’t looking at race, how are they going to know the whole story? What do they care about?” 

What precedent does it set for the workplace?

“I’m thinking about the implications of this decision beyond school,” adds 22-year-old Babita Goel. “Obviously, it doesn’t explicitly say anything, but what kind of precedent does it set for the workplace? I think not having policies like Affirmative Action is a slippery slope into all kinds of discrimination.” 

Goel worries about how different companies and organizations might use this case as an excuse to favor historically advantaged, wealthy individuals. The future seems to be a gray area across all groups and generations. 

Litigators for Affirmative Action Reflect on Next Steps

At a July 7th Ethnic Media Services briefing, panelists discussed how society could move forward in the aftermath of the SCOTUS. Decision.

The briefing, entitled “Litigators for Affirmative Action Reflect on Next Steps,” featured civil rights advocates John C. Yang, Jin Hee Lee, Francisca Fajana, Chavis Jones, and special guest Congresswoman Judy Chu

They note some specific issues they’ve seen come up through their multiple experiences and provide a beacon of light into the future given their conviction towards shifted mindsets and actionable steps forward. 

John C. Yang, President and Executive Director of Asian Americans Advancing Justice (AAJC), and Congresswoman Judy Chu of the 20th District of California shared the Asian American perspective.  

It’s wrong to blame Asian Americans for the repeal, said Yang, because that “creates division within our coalition.” He was concerned that it was triggering infighting among communities which should be more focused on countering the impact of the ban. Blaming Asian Americans could also feed Asian American hate, which has been increasing since the pandemic began in the United States, he added. 

Congresswoman Chu explained that AAPI communities are not a monolith. “Nearly 70% of Asian Americans support affirmative action,” she said. While the general perception is that Asian Americans spearheaded the anti-affirmative action movement, in reality, this was not the case. 

While the SCOTUS decision makes higher education more attainable for the historically wealthy, Asian Americans have become scapegoats, forced to take responsibility for the impact of the ban.  

Next Steps 

Congresswoman Chu outlined countrywide initiatives by the Biden administration and steps that the state of California is taking to quell concerns of minority communities.

The Congressional Asian-Pacific American Caucus (CAPAC) is working to secure federal funding to create policies that support minority groups. Chu assured her constituents that these policies will have rigorous oversight. 

She reiterated that higher education institutions must concurrently take immediate steps to ensure diversity is essential in the admissions process. 

Jin Hee Lee, Director of Strategic Initiatives at Legal Defense Fund (LDF) noted that activism on Harvard and other campuses after the court’s verdict is indicative of a nationwide counter-response

Moving Forward

Panelists agreed it was important to understand the nuances of the SCOTUS decision within its legal jurisdiction before moving forward. It’s important to acknowledge what can and can’t be done. 

“We (…) want to be very careful to not overstate what the United States Supreme Court did in these cases,” said Lee, noting that the court only dealt with Harvard and UNC’s affirmative action policies. 

This means that the ruling did not cover race-neutral programs, the k-12 space, or employment programs. Students of color are still able to talk about race-related experiences in their application essays. Other adjacent cases, such as attacks on critical race theory, were not necessarily won by the plaintiffs, explained Lee.

She went on to point out that other admissions criteria such as legacy, AP courses, standardized tests, and prioritizing athletics or other extracurriculars that require a lot of financial resources, should factor into the discussion. Everything needs to be put on the table, added Lee, and society needs to think about innovative ways to be equitable. 

Redefining merit

Essentially, universities should redefine merit in a way that considers everyone’s unique background and experiences. 

Chavis Jones, Associate Counsel at Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, explained that DEIA efforts should be lawful and critical. He concurred that other policies must be implemented to ensure diversity in educational spaces. “This cannot overrule our shared values,” said Jones, referring to a “sleeping army of affinity-based alumni groups” that have the power to push institutions to ensure diversity. 

Although there will likely be a negative impact on university admissions, society can value diversity in different ways and in different spaces. Diversity is important to the educational experience, and it is crucial to creating equity in our society. Coalitions must be built to combat the injustices in our system and move forward as a society. 

Francisca Fajana, Director of Racial Justice Strategy at Latino Justice, said that eliminating racial discrimination means eliminating all of it, including but going well beyond affirmative action policies.

She quoted Supreme Court Justice Sotomayor, saying, “Ignoring race will not equalize a society that’s racially unequal.” 

Photo by Honey Yanibel Minaya Cruz on Unsplash

Raisah is an incoming senior at UC Berkeley studying Political Economy with a minor in Human Rights. She enjoys playing chess, spoken word poetry, and spending time with her four siblings. Born and raised...