SCOTUS affirmative action case causes controversy


Shutterstock image contributed by Joy Brown

College admission offices across the country have made race conscious admission decisions for years. Now the question of whether or not it is an ethical practice is being brought back to the Supreme Court.

Unfortunately, it looks like SCOTUS is leaning toward ending years of allowing colleges and universities to make race-conscious acceptance decisions, and people of all races, ages and genders are speaking up about what they believe to be the most ethical decision. By overturning affirmative action, the Supreme Court will take away opportunities from applicants with lower socio-economic status and primarily affect Ivy League colleges working towards creating a more diverse and inclusive environment.

Affirmative action for college admissions began showing up in the 1960s and ’70s with colleges and universities implementing their own programs, and then was reaffirmed by the Supreme Court in 2003 in the case Grutter vs. Bollinger. Now it is being brought up again by the conservative-leaning group, Students for Fair Admissions, which wants it overturned. Harvard and the University of North Carolina are fighting against them to keep it in place. Affirmative action has had a positive impact on school diversity, by recognizing students who have to work much harder to get into college than others who have more opportunities. Because of this, colleges and universities all over the United States say that they oppose overturning affirmative action, and do not believe the Supreme Court is leaning in the correct direction with the issue.

“I think it is going to create a lot of barriers as far as access. And that’s not to do with people doing intentional bias, but a lot of it comes from implicit bias,” school counselor Patricia Grgurovic explained when asked what effects there would be if affirmative action was overturned. “Getting rid of affirmative action can lead to further implications of implicit bias, it can lead to more negative impacts,” she added.

The Supreme Court is not only seeing pushback from the colleges, but from students who attend those colleges as well. Hundreds of demonstrators rallied outside the supreme court building on Oct. 31 during the entire five hours of debate on the topic between members of SCOTUS. The majority of these people were in support of the bill, speaking out that it has allowed diversity to grow within campuses, and the Supreme Court should not do anything to take away from that.

In 1976, the average percentage of the Caucasian population within college campuses was over 80%, and other races made up only 20%. Since then, with affirmative action in place, those averages have balanced out and it is now 50-50% between students who are white and students of color. There is an obvious positive impact happening within higher-level education due to the bill.

Peg Hansen, former employee at the Office of Affirmative Action and Equal Opportunity at the University of Colorado Boulder, stated that she believes diversity enriches the college with no doubt. “If you are a student who is not of color, it is even more important to go to a college program with diversity because the exposure needs to be there.”… “They need people of color in their classrooms to bring the issues out to talk about things that otherwise students have no exposure to.”

Graphic by, Ava Cheney.

Those protesting in opposition to the bill feel that affirmative action takes away from an equal playing field in regard to academics. They believe those who work hard to have a good transcript should get into college regardless of race. The problem with this view is that it does not consider the lack of equal opportunity that those in lower socioeconomic classes and those of color experience, with academic accessibility that can keep them from achieving their goals.

“Technically, they can make a logical argument that it can be viewed as a racist practice, that it is discriminatory to a group of people. However, if we are looking at the cultural context and where this case law is going to impact, it is not an accurate representation of the actual systems practice,” Grgurovic explained.

The two main colleges involved in this current debate, Harvard and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, are not feeling good after the court meeting. Ivy League schools have been the most directly affected by affirmative action and do not want to see it go away because of the increase in intellectual and cultural engagement they have seen associated with an increase in diversity. Both schools have stated that even if affirmative action is overturned, they will continue using the race-conscious practices that the act has allowed them to for the past 50 years. There is no reason why most, if not all, colleges and universities should do the same.

“I think that many schools that use ethnicity and race as a factor, not the deciding factor per se, but a factor of enrollment, will be able to keep that to a certain degree,” Matt Kiedrowski, U.S. history teacher said. He added that if people truly understood affirmative action then they would realize that it is not about accepting someone due to race even if they are not qualified, it is solely about giving out more opportunities. “If you have a healthy conversation about it, and people truly understand it, then there would not be the resistance to it,” he said.

There is no question that affirmative action and whether it should be removed or not is a difficult debate. Both sides have legitimate arguments, but people have to focus on what would be the most ethical decision based on where the country is at right now socio-economically. It is not realistic to think that those of color and those with lower socioeconomic status will get the same opportunities, (no matter how hard they work) compared to someone who is white, and higher up on the economic scale. Without affirmative action, there is no doubt that the country will see populations of Native American, Black American, and Hispanic students go down.

“I think that there is a chance for the removal of laws like this, but it would take hundreds of years, like eight generations of work of teaching a different mindset to the younger generations. But without the true social change that takes one hundred years, it is really difficult to remove these safeguards from the marginalized groups of people,” Grgurovic explained.

Affirmative action provides opportunities for demographics of people that would not have them otherwise. It is a strong positive force in college admissions and if overturned, will create numerous negative effects mainly targeted toward people in lower socioeconomic classes and those of color. The more that colleges can keep making race-conscious admission decisions and continue to diversify their campuses, the closer the country will be to leveling out the socio-economic field and positively affecting less privileged demographics.