The impacts of overturning affirmative action
Al Día News heard from different perspectives on the matter, and its effects in the country and in Philadelphia.
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On Oct. 31, the U.S. Supreme Court began listening to the oral arguments for the lawsuits against Harvard University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The first institution has been accused of discriminating against Asian American applicants, while the second of violating civil rights law and the Constitution.
Led by the conservative activist Edward Blum, the challenger Students for Fair Admissions (SFFA), an anti-affirmative action legal organization, alleges that those schools put too much weight on race favoring Black and Latinos, while qualified white and Asian American applicants are rejected.
Considering the 6-3 conservative-liberal majority in the high court, there is a strong likelihood that affirmative action will be overturned — but we will probably have to wait a few months for a decision. Universities and experts have sided in different ways. While some argue that there are other ways to promote diversity, Ivy Leagues schools in the country have demonstrated appreciation for the maintenance of affirmative action policies.
Princeton University hopes that the Supreme Court will reaffirm its long-standing precedent that holistic admissions programs like Princeton’s are entirely consistent with constitutional principles, said Ramona E. Romero, Vice President and General Counsel of Princeton University. In their experience, a holistic admissions program is the best way for Princeton to achieve student body diversity and the educational benefits it generates.
“Holistic admissions programs strive to understand and evaluate all applicants on their own merits, with a full appreciation of every aspect of each individual’s identity, experience, and accomplishments, including the impact of their race and/or ethnicity,” Romero added.
Jennifer Lennings, Professor of Sociology and Public Affairs at Princeton, mentioned the importance of affirmative action as a system. People from underrepresented groups who receive opportunities to grow tend to go back and help their communities — creating a cycle of contributions. Lennings highlights how essential it is to understand how people around the students benefit from their education.
ECONOMIC FACTOR INSTEAD OF RACE
A Liberal who has worked with civil-rights groups and community leaders on racial issues, but decided to side with the plaintiffs who are against race-conscious admissions; Richard Kahlenberg — a researcher, writer and author of The Remedy: Class, Race and Affirmative Action — believes that racial diversity on campuses is crucial but it can be achieved by giving a leg up to socioeconomically disadvantaged students, a disproportionate share of whom are students of color.
For him, Americans support the idea of having diversity on campus, but they oppose the idea of counting someone's race in deciding who gets in.
For The Atlantic, Kahlenberg argues that schools being challenged on court have a multiracial aristocracy — meaning that even though the universities are indeed racially diverse, the students come from the richest group of the population.
When asked how to guarantee that a ban wouldn’t represent a regression in rights for underrepresented groups in the higher education environment, Kahlenberg said that simulations conducted the the Harvard and University of North Carolina cases found that if those universities eliminated their preferences for wealthy students and gave a meaningful admissions bump to economically disadvantaged students, robust levels of racial diversity can be created on campus.
“If universities do nothing, then diversity will fall,” Kahlenberg said. “But if they implement alternative programs that benefit the economically disadvantaged of all races, universities can maintain high levels of racial diversity and become much more economically diverse than they are today.”
THE IMPACTS IN PHILADELPHIA
Considering the impacts of overturning affirmative action in Philadelphia, the poorest big city in the country, Darin Toliver — Associate Director of Penn African-American Resource Center — says a decision from the Supreme Court doesn't look too promising.
For him, not considering race in admission assumes that the opportunities are equally distributed. In Philadelphia, minority students still lack the necessary educational resources in order to not just participate but to thrive just like their counterparts. Affirmative action has allowed students of color to achieve and have extra support, despite the poor test scores and underperforming schools in the state’s rankings.
“If affirmative action is overtuned, you are going to see a significant number of African Americans and poor Latinos being left out and behind,” Toliver said.
He agrees that color shouldn’t be considered in theory; but by doing that, we aren’t looking at some of the challenges and unethical practices that the United States has had. Looking historically at the people who fall under the low-income households category, for example, the Black and Brown populations dominate it. Because of that, he believes prioritizing economic standing instead of color goes hand in hand.
“In terms of who has access to higher education, affirmative action clearly was something that was needed and, in 2022, I would argue that it still is,” Toliver added.