On June 29, 2023, the United States Supreme Court gutted affirmative action programs in college admissions. This decision marks a regressive step that undermines over 50 years of progress in increasing the representation of women and people of color in higher education institutions. The American Bar Association states that affirmative action was originally implemented to address the systemic inequalities deeply ingrained not only in the college admission process but also within the very fabric of American society.
Unfortunately, what was intended to combat the prevailing white patriarchal system in postsecondary American education has now been dismantled, depriving underrepresented students of equal access to the transformative developmental opportunities uniquely offered by access to collegiate education.
It is worth noting that, according to the Pew Research Center, affirmative action predominantly applied to a select few highly competitive institutions, as the majority of schools accepted around two-thirds of their applicants. Its purpose was to ensure that underrepresented students had an equitable chance to access the nation’s top colleges, which often serve as gateways to prestigious and otherwise inaccessible industries and careers. By promoting diversity at all levels, affirmative action enabled underrepresented voices to contribute their unique perspectives in the spaces where meaningful change truly occurs.
This Supreme Court decision will have profound consequences, fundamentally altering the demographic composition of colleges throughout the United States, as articles have found like ones written by USC Provost and Professor Shaun Harper, an expert in diversity, equity, and inclusion.
Regrettably, this decision appears politically motivated and without due consideration of America’s historical racial context. In plain view, the majority opinion ignores the pervasiveness of the institution of white supremacy to the continued detriment of racial minorities.
The Court cited the 14th Amendment and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act as the basis for excluding race from the admissions process. Paradoxically, these very laws were enacted to address racial harms imposed upon Black Americans following the Civil War through the Civil Rights Movement to the present. To employ them as justifications for discounting the role of race in admissions is irresponsibly hypocritical and disregards our nation’s history. Recognizing race as a factor in admissions does not impede anyone’s chances of gaining admission; rather, it offers a holistic understanding of a student’s identity, without causing harm to others. Students of color have historically been excluded from equitable opportunities and resources, a fact that should be highlighted in the college admissions process.
We do not inhabit a zero-sum society where acknowledging the systemic oppression of one group somehow diminishes the opportunities for others. It is imperative that we shift our collective mindset to address, with appreciation, systemic oppression within America as the catalyst for genuine, revolutionary change.
As a Black woman currently attending Duke University through the BN Duke Merit Scholarship, I can attest that my presence at this prestigious university is the result of merit, hard work, and restricted oppression. I am not a mediocre student, and my admission to Duke was not based on the need for a token Black individual on campus. Like every Black Duke student, I earned my place through my accomplishments. However, it is crucial to recognize that affirmative action played a vital role in ensuring that my achievements were not overlooked or intentionally ignored. In a country that consistently rewards the mediocrity of white males while disregarding the hard work of people of color, women, and anyone who does not conform to the constraints of the white patriarchy, I am grateful that Duke University considered my race, the institution’s complete history of racial action, and their continuous strides toward a more just university community. To ignore my racial identity during the admissions process is to overlook a significant part of our shared history and absolves the University of any remedial action.
Race remains the underlying social construct upon which America was built and operated. It permeates every conversation and cannot not be muted. I feel immense sadness for the future students who will not be fully appreciated for who they are unless they choose to share their experiences as Black individuals in America. Such narratives should not be demanded by admission officers, but unfortunately, that is the reality that all Black students will now face.
I align myself with the statement made by Duke University’s Black Student Alliance Advocacy and the Black Caucus Committee, of which I am a proud member. Furthermore, I strongly urge Duke University to not merely adhere to the limitations imposed by the law but to demonstrate a genuine commitment to racial and social equity. It is crucial to remember that chattel slavery and segregation were once legal in this country. Leaders in academia must take a resolute stance against the erasure of Black voices and actively work towards rectifying historical injustices.