22222222An applicant’s perspective on the SCOTUS Affirmative Action decision

By Ava Lee-Green

Between extracurriculars and supplemental essay writing, not to mention going to school every day to maintain a competitive GPA and attempting to fit in some time for a social life, the college application process has become extremely overwhelming and challenging. And, due to systemic inequalities that plague the U.S., applicants who are part of minority communities have even more barriers to overcome in the application process. Although flawed, Affirmative Action has provided a foundation for some equity in accessing higher education. The recent Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) decision that terminates Affirmative Action could perpetuate racial divisions in the U.S.

An Overview of Affirmative Action

Photo by Dom Fou on Unsplash

Affirmative Action was first implemented in the early 1960s to ensure job applicants and employees were treated fairly and equally regardless of race, sex, or nationality. Essentially, Affirmative Action was enacted to promote minority communities that have historically not had equal employment opportunities to those of the majority. 

Since the SCOTUS decision in Grutter v. Bollinger in 2003, universities and colleges have been permitted to use race as a criterion when determining which applicants to admit. Since then, some states have banned public and private institutions from practicing Affirmative Action. 

Like most policies, Affirmative Action has received a lot of criticism. Some people, often white men who have historically not been marginalized, argue that Affirmative Action takes spots away from white applicants who are potentially “more qualified” than their Black or Brown peers. However, because most universities take a “holistic approach”, it is difficult to determine who is the most qualified. On the other hand, some people part of minority communities feel that Affirmative Action undermines their success in university.     

The SCOTUS Decision

On June 29, 2023, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the use of race as a criterion in the college admissions process was unconstitutional. This decision has therefore terminated Affirmative Action. In the majority opinion, the justices cited a need for “colorblindness” during the admissions process, in which applicants are judged purely on merit.

One of the main issues with colorblindness is that the achievement gap concerning race, gender, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status, among other factors, will continue to grow and divide the country.

Click here to read more about the achievement gap.

In the dissent opinion, Justice Sonya Sotomayor wrote:

“The Court cements a superficial rule of colorblindness as a constitutional principle in an endemically segregated society where race has always mattered and continues to matter.”

Black and Brown communities across the U.S. have disproportionately less access to adequate funding for education. This not only affects their GPAs but their test scores and extracurriculars – all factors that have become essential for the college admissions process in the U.S. Due to these systems of inequality, all applicants are not given equal chances to succeed. 

Implications and the Future

So what happens now? Without Affirmative Action or similar policies that recognize the historic discriminatory practices of these institutions, minority communities could continue to be excluded from certain opportunities.

Photo by Joshua Woods on Unsplash

Some universities have already found loopholes in the SCOTUS decision. And while that may work for large and wealthy institutions like Harvard, the ruling on June 29th has made the systemic inequalities even clearer than they have been. Legislation like the Equal Rights Amendment would provide constitutional protection to minority communities even when laws fail to be enforced or precedents are undermined by the Supreme Court. 

Now that Affirmative Action has been terminated, new policies must be put into action that uplift historically marginalized communities. Doing so will help create an education system that empowers all students to better society.