Is this the end of affirmative action?

Amanda Maltin, Opinions Co-Editor

As college application season comes to an end and the Supreme Court prepares to rule on two landmark cases surrounding admissions, the conversation surrounding affirmative action has been reignited.  Affirmative action has been an important part of the higher-ed landscape since its introduction in the mid-1960s, and rulings that undermine its implementation could have serious consequences for members of historically marginalized groups who hope to pursue a college education.  

Affirmative action was first introduced under the Johnson administration as a part of the robust Civil Rights Act of 1964 and a subsequent executive order in 1965. At first, these policies were designed to increase institutional access for African Americans, whether it be educational, professional or otherwise.  Those policies were soon expanded to include women, Native Americans and other historically disadvantaged groups.  Over the next couple of decades, affirmative action policies were revised to reflect challenges to affirmative action via the Supreme Court, which banned quotas and other policies that arguably promoted “reverse discrimination.” Across the board, legal challenges to affirmative action were brought forth by plaintiffs who were displeased with its implementation at public institutions.  

Now, one of the two cases that the Supreme Court is presiding over implicates Harvard University, a private institution. The conservative majority on the court is likely to side with the plaintiff, Students for Fair Admissions Inc., a nonprofit organization which hopes to ban affirmative action from playing a role in the admissions decisions at “competitive universities”. This organization believes that racial classifications should not play a role in admissions decisions whatsoever.  

Students for Fair Admissions Inc. v. President and Fellows of Harvard College takes up two issues: if the Supreme Court should overrule a previous precedent that allows institutions for higher education to consider race as a factor in admissions and if Harvard College is violating Title VI of the Civil Rights Act by penalizing Asian-American applicants.  Harvard argues that this case is “politically motivated” and could put “40 years of legal precedent and diverse campus communities that prepare students for an interconnected world” at risk.

It is clear that the ideological debate over affirmative action is being brought into the arena of private education, and this could have implications for colleges across the country. Students for Fair Admissions aims to cripple the role of affirmative action for racial minorities. However, I believe we need to go in the complete opposite direction of what this organization suggests (and that the Supreme Court will probably agree with in their upcoming ruling).  

The role that private universities play in perpetuating inequalities despite the current rollout of affirmative action policies remains under-investigated, and institutions like Bucknell University are a perfect example of this. In a report by TheUpshot of anonymous tax filings, it was found that 73 percent of students at Bucknell University come from households at the top 20 percent of the income distribution and that the school ranked 29th out of 65 elite colleges in terms of promoting class mobility for those who graduate, indicating that the institution seems to foster class reproduction rather than mobility for disadvantaged groups.  

As the protocol surrounding affirmative action changes, it is important that we hold our institution accountable for promoting inclusivity and opportunity to the best of its ability.

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