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What High Schoolers Should Know About Ban on Affirmative Action

How does the Supreme Court decision to ban race-conscious admissions change things for graduating students?

High schoolers have a new hurdle to face in the matrix of college admissions – universities are on track to no longer consider race when determining a student’s entry.

Since the Supreme Court ruled in June that race-conscious admission processes were unconstitutional, there has been an outcry across the nation. Up until now, taking race into consideration has ensured more diverse student bodies in higher ed and protected equal opportunity for those who have been discriminated against.

With it gone, the landscape of higher education is due to change.

What Is Race-Conscious Admissions?

Race-conscious admissions (a form of affirmative action) is when a university or college takes an applicants’ race into account when determining admittance. The right to affirmative action for colleges and universities has existed since the 1960’s when programs were created to ensure diverse student bodies and education access to everyone.

In June of this year, however, the Supreme Court made an historic ruling that the admissions processes at Harvard University and the University of North Carolina which practice affirmative action are unconstitutional.

This is one of the most pivotal and contested issues in American education. Now that this ruling has passed, it opens the floodgates for changes – not just in universities but in how we as a nation view positive discrimination in education.

Why Did the Supreme Court Overturn Race-Conscious Admissions?

The Supreme Court’s decision was based on the argument that affirmative action at certain federally-funded universities violates the Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment. The clause reads that states shall not “deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

The thought is that affirmative action in universities gives preferential treatment to certain students by determining their admission based on race rather than individual experience.

Chief Justice John Roberts had this to say about the Supreme Court’s decision:

“The student must be treated based on his or her experiences as an individual — not on the basis of race. Many universities have for too long done just the opposite. And in doing so, they have concluded, wrongly, that the touchstone of an individual’s identity is not challenges bested, skills built, or lessons learned but the color of their skin.”

An opposing view was stated by the Supreme Court’s first black female justice, Ketanji Brown Jackson. “"With let-them-eat-cake obliviousness, today, the majority pulls the ripcord and announces 'colorblindness for all' by legal fiat. But deeming race irrelevant in law does not make it so in life."

Ironically, the Equal Protection Clause was created to keep states from racially discriminating against black citizens in the wake of the Civil War. Its original goal was to diminish racial discrimination and improve diversity. While researchers and historians understand that affirmative action is not the perfect solution, it has provided a great deal of equal opportunity for minorities in America.

But recent groups like Students for Fair Admissions argue that racial consideration in admissions now is causing negative effects on opportunities for students, particularly those of white and Asian descent.

What Does This Mean for Colleges Across America?

The Supreme Court ruling was only related to Harvard and UNC. So, why does it matter for other universities?

It matters because these ivy league schools set the standard for education and opportunity in our country. These schools offer the highest quality education and provide the greatest assurance of hires after college. If these universities are putting legal strictures on how they ensure diversity and equal opportunity, they run the risk of increasing limitations for minorities to have access to greater opportunities.

We also know from experience that race-conscious admission has been one of the most effective ways to encourage diverse student bodies. Since certain states like California banned race-conscious admissions at public institutions in 1996, they have reported being unable to build back a sufficiently diverse student body. Natasha Warikoo, a racial inequity researcher and sociologist at Tufts University, commented that universities which ban race-conscious admissions never get “the number of underrepresented minorities . . . back to pre-ban levels."

The big concern now is if and how prestigious universities will put new procedures into effect to ensure equal opportunity when they are concerned about legal scrutiny.

What Applying High Schoolers Need to Know

While this ruling is heavy news for many, here are some hopeful suggestions for high schoolers looking to apply to colleges this Fall.

1. You should still talk about race

The Supreme Court decision does not ban admissions officers from taking into consideration how race affects a student’s life.

The decision states that “nothing prohibits universities from considering an applicant's discussion of how race affected the applicant's life, so long as that discussion is concretely tied to a quality of character or unique ability that the particular applicant can contribute to the university."

After race-conscious admissions bans were passed in California, Tyrone Howard, an education professor at UCLA, stressed the importance of students being honest about their race. “Don't run away from the challenges that you faced as a person of color. Talk about how that shaped your identity, continues to shape your identity, and how you have been able to navigate circumstances despite those challenges

Long story short? If you feel that your race is part of your story that you want to share, share it.

2. Students of color should still apply to selective schools.

It is more important than ever for students of color to apply to selective schools. Fighting the implications of this court decision will involve students of color continuing to pursue their desires and showing their refusal to be deterred by a court ruling.

With this new ruling, many admissions counselors are eager to find other ways of ensuring diverse student bodies and encouraging students of color. Andrew Belasco, CEO of College Transitions and counselor, acknowledged that this ruling will increase the feelings of minority students that they do not belong. He openly admitted that counselors must encourage these students and make sure the ruling “does not communicate to underrepresented minorities that they should no longer consider some colleges.”

3. Students should find universities that will support them.

Universities need students. They do not exist without students. So, it is important to remember that this is a relationship – it is a two-way street. And every student deserves to be supported by the university they attend.

Marjani Chidinma, associate director of recruitment at Cal State LA, encourages students to find the places that will support who they are in the face of this Supreme Court decision. She suggests that students ask how institutions are going to provide them with mentorship and guidance. “Whether that be application clinics, workshops, information sessions, all of those things are taking place so that students know what this process is and what they’re facing.”

It’s important for students to get clear on what would make them feel supported at this time and then find the universities that will offer that support.

This is an uncertain time for graduating high schoolers. We want to support you in any way we can. Be sure to follow and message us on our social at @nj_institute_of_nature – we’d love to hear from you.



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