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Americans Divided Over Supreme Court Decision on Affirmative Action

People protest outside of the Supreme Court in Washington, June 29, 2023.
People protest outside of the Supreme Court in Washington, June 29, 2023.

Americans are divided by the Supreme Court overturning decades of precedent supporting affirmative action in college admissions, a policy that advantaged otherwise disadvantaged students from racial or ethnic minority groups.

"Unfortunately, race still matters in our society and affirmative action is essential in guaranteeing that everyone — not just the advantaged — benefit from an education that can serve as a pathway to upward mobility," Coalition for a Diverse Harvard board member Michael Williams told VOA.

Harvard University, along with the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, were sued by Students for Fair Admissions, a nonprofit organization against racial classifications in college admissions. By ruling in their favor, the Supreme Court is disadvantaging all Americans, Williams said.

"Many of our college applicants have been systematically and purposefully excluded from aspects of our society and discriminated against based on race, and an equitable college admissions process must recognize these disadvantages," Williams said. "But this affects everyone because studies show that diverse institutions are better institutions. Affirmative action helps prepare all our students for the diversity they'll find in the workplace."

Other Americans welcomed the high court's ruling against race-conscious admissions.

"America is supposed to be a meritocracy, and race shouldn't play any part in college or job decisions," said Angelica Garcia, a teacher in Saginaw, Michigan.

"Assuming every Black and brown person has lived this underclass or inferior experience and needs help is racist," she continued. "As a person of color, I worked hard for what I've gotten and I've overcome a lot, and I hate that some people think I've only been accepted into college or my job because of my race."

Born from civil rights movement

Race-conscious admissions in American universities were born from the civil rights movement of the 1960s and laws supporting affirmative action in the U.S. labor market. Colleges that adopted these policies were challenged in the Supreme Court, where justices ruled that while quota systems were an unconstitutional violation of equal protections, race could still be considered by universities as one factor among others.

"Affirmative action was implemented to address the longstanding exclusion and segregation of Black and brown students in higher education and to recognize the persistent inequalities that students of color face on both individual and systemic levels," Edgar Saldivar, senior staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, told VOA.

The impact of eliminating that is clear to Connie Chung Joe, chief executive officer of Asian Americans Advancing Justice Southern California.

"Without race-conscious admissions, racial segregation will rise at our nation's colleges and universities," she predicted. "This will disproportionately harm Black, Indigenous, Latinx, Pacific Islander, Native Hawaiian, and Asian communities. Entire generations of talented students of color will be denied the future they deserve."

Policy has harmed, say opponents

Opponents of race-conscious admissions say it's the policy itself that has done harm by overlooking those excluded from preferential treatments.

"Maybe affirmative action was something necessary many years ago, but in the present day, it was time for it to be revisited," said Jillian Dani, a former teacher from Merritt Island, Florida. "I understand the desire to give minorities more opportunities, but in today's world, minorities have the same opportunities as the rest of us."

"All-women colleges exist, and all-Black colleges exist," Dani told VOA. "But there aren't any all-white male colleges even though poor white people are a real thing. They're missing out on opportunities, too, and affirmative action wasn't helping them."

Twenty-year-old San Diego entrepreneur Willow Hannington believes the decision to strike down affirmative action is a positive one for the country.

"It's a significant stride towards fostering a truly fair and equal society," she told VOA. "This nation has achieved significant progress, and, in my opinion, race should no longer play a decisive role in any aspect of our lives."

Schools commit to diversity

In a recent poll by ABC News/Ipsos, a majority of Americans favor this more "race neutral" or "color-blind" approach. Following the ruling, many colleges and universities issued statements reaffirming their commitment to diversity.

"Eliminating the use of standardized test scores in admissions, increasing guaranteed financial support, broadening recruitment efforts to underserved communities, and developing robust middle and high school pipelines that benefit all students are just some of the things that can be done," Saldivar told VOA.

Craig Mindrum from Chicago has a strategy to add. With experience on a graduate school admissions committee, he said students should continue talking about how their lived experiences and race has shaped their character, drive and talents.

"No legislation or court decision is going to stop me from making some recommendations while considering minority or disadvantaged status," he said. "Admissions counselors are people, not legislative robots, and across the country they're going to be making the final decision on who is accepted into their college."