After affirmative action ruling, local schools look for new ways to add diversity

Colleges and universities must now find new ways to diversify their student bodies.
Published: Jun. 29, 2023 at 8:39 PM EDT
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ATLANTA, Ga. (Atlanta News First) - Colleges and universities can no longer use race as a factor in admissions, the United States Supreme Court ruled on Thursday. The decision ended the decades-long policy of affirmative action, which encouraged higher education institutions to consider the impact of an applicant’s race.

In a majority made up of all the court’s conservative members, justices decided that affirmative action policies violated the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment. It states: “No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.”

Justices added that the policies also violated federal laws on discrimination by academic institutions that receive federal funding, as almost all public colleges and universities do.

“The truth is, we all know it: discrimination still exists in America,” said President Joe Biden said from the White House hours after the ruling. “Discrimination still exists in America. Today’s decision does not change that. It’s a simple fact.”

The ruling drew immediate anger from the leaders of several local colleges and universities.

“This ruling reverses generations of progress that opened the doors for Black and brown communities to have equal access to higher education at institutions of their choice,” said Spelman College President Helene D. Gayle. “It also goes against the growing diversity of our nation and the importance of diversity for our democracy.”

“I am deeply concerned about the impact this ruling will have at Emory and at colleges and universities across the nation,” said Emory University President Gregory L. Fenves.Diversity remains a bedrock value at Emory University. It is reflected in our students, whose talents define the Emory experience. Our commitment to diversity is a commitment to them.”

Without affirmative action policies in place, schools will now have to find new ways to add diversity to their student bodies.

“They should not abandon their commitment to ensure student bodies of diverse backgrounds and experience that reflect all of America,” said Biden. “We cannot let this decision be the last word.”

Professor Darren Hutchinson, who leads Emory University’s Center for Civil Rights and Social Justice, wasn’t surprised by Thursday’s ruling. He noted that some states have laws prohibiting affirmative action policies, like Florida, but noted that schools in those states find other ways to get diversity on their campuses.

“Interviewing students, talking to them, focusing less on test scores and more on high school GPA,” he said. “There’s a notion that the students who are products of affirmative action aren’t qualified to be there. It’s almost as if they just show up, let me put down on my application ‘I am a person of color’ and you’re admitted. That’s just not the case.”

The lawsuit was brought by the group Students for Fair Admissions, who sued Harvard University and the University of North Carolina over their race-conscious admissions practices. Their claim was that White and Asian students were being discriminated against because affirmative action policies overlooked their achievements in place of another potential applicant’s race.

“The opinion issued today by the United States Supreme Court marks the beginning of the restoration of the colorblind legal covenant that binds together our multi-racial, multi-ethnic nation,” said Edward Blum, the founder and president of Students for Fair Admissions. “The polarizing, stigmatizing and unfair jurisprudence that allowed colleges and universities to use a student’s race and ethnicity as a factor to admit or reject them has been overruled. These discriminatory admission practices undermined the integrity of our country’s civil rights laws.”

Affirmative action, which first came about in the 1970s, had survived legal challenges in the past as recently as 2016. It’s not to say that students can’t still make their race and its impact on their lives known in the application process, according to the ruling.

In his majority opinion, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote that even in college essays, students can consider “how race affected his or her life, be it through discrimination, inspiration or otherwise,” but schools “may not simply establish through application essays or other means the regime we hold unlawful today.”

Both Harvard and UNC said they would continue to seek a diverse student body, but would comply with the federal ruling.

Those in favor of the ruling vowed to defend it fervently.

“We remain vigilant and intend to initiate litigation should universities defiantly flout this clear ruling,” said Blum.