As the college application season continues, seniors all over the United States frantically perfect admission forms. Throughout this process, many students wonder how one controversial admission factor will affect their chances of being accepted to their dream college — affirmative action. However, they will not have to wonder much longer; on Oct. 31, the Supreme Court will reconsider its decision on the inclusion of race in college admissions.
Race-based admissions fell under legal reevaluation after Students for Fair Admissions (SFFA) founder Edward Blum sued Harvard University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill for discriminating against Asian and white students by favoring Black, Hispanic and Native American students during admissions. SFFA claimed affirmative action was unconstitutional as it violated the Equal Protection Clause. The clause, under section one of the 14th Amendment, guarantees no person in the U.S. will be discriminated against based on race.
“Sometimes affirmative action degrades the effort that many Asians put in because it is more common and stereotypical for Asians to be academically inclined. Good college admission officers will look beyond just your race, hopefully. But often colleges might be intentional in having a good mix of races, even if it goes against certain statistics just to improve their rankings,” junior Yena Ahn said.
At elite universities, ranked top 20 according to the 2022 U.S. News & World Report rankings, white students account for 36.6% of the student population. Meanwhile, Asian students account for 21.8%, Hispanic students for 14.7% and Black students for 6.5%.
“I understand colleges want racial diversity, but the emphasis should be on the diversity of experiences, not races,” Ahn said.
Admission should be based on how you work and what you have been through, not how you are born.”
— Yena Ahn
The lawsuits come with high prices. If the lawsuit against Harvard succeeds, it would cost the university $15 million. Harvard has countered by stating that the lawsuit puts “at risk 40 years of legal precedent and diverse campus communities that prepare students for an interconnected world.”
“Our country is still grappling with systemic racism which disproportionately oppresses Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC). We need affirmative action to combat those forces of oppression which make it more difficult for BIPOC to earn a spot at a selective college,” alumni and current Harvard University freshman Mira Nalbandian said. “The SFFA has tried to use Asian Americans as a pawn in a racist ploy to get rid of affirmative action.”
Supporters of continuing affirmative action, including various Harvard students, have organized a protest at the Supreme Court to defend race-based affirmative action on Oct. 30 and Oct. 31. These demonstrations have been approved with a $2,700 budget by the Harvard Undergraduate Association.
“It is not fair to say anyone is exploiting affirmative action to get into a school because everyone who attends Harvard or similar institutions is certainly qualified, regardless of race,” Nalbandian said. “It is far easier for a legacy student to exploit their class and parentage to gain admission to an institution they otherwise wouldn’t have gotten into than it would be someone to unfairly benefit from affirmative action.”
The Trump administration, under which the lawsuits were litigated, opposed race-based affirmative action. However, under the new leadership of President Joe Biden, executive orders focus on “advancing racial equity and support for underserved communities through the federal government.” Now, the constitutional question lies in the hands of the Supreme Court.
“Meritocracy is a false reality for many racial minorities that are statistically, disproportionately low-income. Colleges can try to create equity by using affirmative action,” senior Lauren McLeod said. “As an African American woman, I know there is a correlation between diversity in terms of race and the quality of education. [Through diversity,] students learn about voices and cultures that they would have never been introduced to before.”
Meritocracy is a false reality for many racial minorities.”
— Lauren McLeod
With approximately 20 million students applying to U.S. universities each year, the rulings of the case will affect a large portion of the country. The effects will also impact socio-economic classes, as prestigious colleges tend to produce higher-paid workers compared to the national average.
“In our current academic system, merit matters more than race does. Race is just something colleges can look at,” McLeod said. “[Admission officers] may look at me and think [I] offer a diverse outlook because of my background but that would play a minor role. If I got into a school, I know I got in because of my own merit.”
This story was originally published on Pathfinder on October 27, 2022.
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