As the Supreme Court prepares to recess at the end of June, one unspoken decision looms large before its presence: affirmative action.
In the next few weeks, the court is expected to release rulings for both Students for Fair Admissions, Inc. (SFFA) vs. President and Fellows of Harvard College and SFFA vs. University of North Carolina.
Affirmative action in the context of higher education was upheld in 2003 by the Supreme Court in Grutter vs. Bollinger, which held that the Constitution does not prohibit the use of race as one factor in college admission decisions if other applicant factors are taken into account.
Although Grutter offered federal oversight on the legality of affirmative action in 2003, the case by no means brought forth affirmative action as the standard in higher education. In fact, the state of California has held a firm ban on affirmative action since Proposition 209 was passed in 1996 and upheld in 2020.
While the University of California’s hope to increase diversity amongst its nine undergraduate campuses has remained a long struggle since the statewide ban almost 30 years ago, affirmative action’s position in the media has brought these issues to the forefront of public discourse once again.
Recently, The Stanford Daily released an editorial titled, “Don’t make Stanford the next Berkeley,” in which the editorial board concluded that bans on affirmative action will only stagnate social mobility and stymy academic benefits of diversity.
In a rare display of unity with our rivals across the bay, we concur.
However, in the true fashion of Supreme Court decisions, we fail to wholeheartedly agree with its majority opinion.
In fall 2022, UC Berkeley had 3.4% Black undergraduate freshman and 5% Black transfer entrants, while Stanford had 7.27% Black students in its entering class of 2026. Despite the UC’s limitations set by Proposition 209, in fall 2022, UC Berkeley also had 19.8% and 21.8% Latine, Mexican American or other Hispanic freshman and transfer entrants. Stanford, however, had 16.68% Hispanic or Latine new undergraduates.
These differences reveal that affirmative action must also include other internal efforts to support communities of color. The process of achieving representation does not end at affirmative action.
Moreover, many private universities that qualify as elite — such as Stanford — have previously admitted almost more students from the top 1% (more than $630,000) than from the bottom 60% (less than $65,000). This highlights a clear disparity of acceptances that still exists within the college admissions process when it comes to low-income students.
We believe equitable college admissions must encompass the intersectionality of lived experiences and that UC administration must bridge the gap between waning racial diversity on campus and increasing awareness for socioeconomic deficits.
With a 6-3 conservative majority occupying the Supreme Court’s bench, it’s more than likely the two upcoming decisions regarding affirmative will bring a huge blow to diversity initiatives in higher education and beyond.
Now more than ever, it is crucial to stand for affirmative action and further efforts in diversity, equity and inclusion.