On June 29, 2023, the Supreme Court announced their 5-4 ruling in the cases of Students for Fair Admissions v. Harvard College and Students for Fair Admissions v. University of North Carolina that race-conscious admissions violate the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment. The decision’s impact has reverberated across the country as colleges and universities seek to understand what it means for their admissions processes.
The Wellesley News Editorial Board stands firmly in favor of affirmative action and believes that it is a necessary practice in the fight for racial equality in higher education and beyond. While this editorial can not reverse the Supreme Court’s decision, we believe it is important to formally commend the institutions across America who have strongly voiced their disagreement with the outcome of the cases.
President Paula Johnson, in an announcement to the Wellesley College community on the same day the decision was released, wrote, “I believe the Court’s decision on race-conscious admissions is likely to have profound negative consequences for generations of students, for colleges and universities, and indeed for our nation. If we are to achieve the educational excellence we aspire to, our students must have the opportunity to learn from each other across diverse backgrounds and experiences, as they do today. Where will they learn to do that if not in our classrooms and on our campuses, where we seek to teach the next generation of leaders and citizens?”
The Court’s decision overturned the precedent set by Regents of the University of California v. Bakke (1978) and Grutter v. Bollinger (2003), both of which allowed institutions of higher education to consider race as a factor in their admissions decisions, as long as it was to ensure educational excellence with a varied, inclusive community. Now, however, the conservative supermajority has ruled that admissions decisions should be made on a so-called “colorblind” basis.
However, the Court’s argument against race-conscious admissions is ironically based on the 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause, as the majority opinion argued that race-conscious admissions violate Americans’ rights to equal protection under the law. The Court fails to understand that the historical damage affirmative action sought to correct is far from repaired. Being “colorblind” makes admissions decisions blind to how race impacts all aspects of people’s lives.
Racism is systemic in the United States. The nature of our system, whether it is through historic red-lining, unequal access to banks, or housing loans, shapes where you go to high school, what neighborhoods you live in, and what resources you have access to, which compounds over generations. All of these are factors that heavily influence a student’s chances of being able to attend elite institutions like Wellesley. The reality is that race continues to shape our country, whether or not the Supreme Court believes it.
Wellesley College, along with 32 other institutions, filed an amicus brief, a way for individuals or groups to assist in a court proceeding without being a party in said legal case, to express their support for continuing race-conscious admissions policies. The brief reads: “Because the outcome of this case could have a detrimental effect on admissions programs in higher education nationwide, the Court should consider the experiences of small, selective private colleges and universities that have applied Grutter faithfully and successfully for nearly 20 years. In a society in which race still matters, Amici’s experience has shown the educational benefits of a diverse student body and the societal benefits of educating diverse future leaders.”
According to the College’s website, the admitted students of the Class of 2027 hail from 46 states, Washington D.C., Guam, Puerto Rico, and 33 countries. 11% are international students, some of whom are dual citizens. Almost 64% of the class are domestic students of color, and nearly a quarter are first-generation college students. More than half speak a language other than English in their homes. About 60% of the enrolled class are receiving financial aid and about 22% are Pell Grant recipients.
These students belong here. They have worked hard to get into Wellesley. But their hard-fought battles will only become harder for the next class as they navigate college applications without the appropriate recognition of their achievements taken in the context of their lived experiences. In fact, the class of 2027 had to work harder than most to get into Wellesley, as their class’ acceptance rate was 13%, one of the lowest in recent years.
We, as students of Wellesley, have had the privilege of experiencing the benefits of diverse classrooms and a diverse student body. It allows us to encounter different perspectives of the world, whether in class discussions or through the numerous student organizations on campus. Engaging with diversity expands our perspectives and pushes us to be more open-minded, more curious and more inclusive. Our education and our community would not be the same without this heterogeneity.
Among institutions of higher education, Wellesley has remained committed to maintaining and increasing the diversity of its student body. President Johnson also noted how the College will continue to focus on fostering diversity in its student body by other means: continuing to be need-blind when looking at student applications, continuing to make applications test-optional, as well as increasing outreach to prospective students from different backgrounds.
While the actions being taken by the College are promising, the gap that affirmative action leaves will still have a resounding impact on future Wellesley students. It is important to understand this decision in its larger context: there is a growing backlash against the recognition of racial diversity in any way, whether it is in books being banned in states based on their inclusion of people of color and different gender identities, or in the “anti-woke movement” from the right. The effects of this case will be felt not only in the realm of higher education, but also in all of the nation’s public spheres, including selective primary and secondary education, employment opportunities, as well as diversity, equity, and inclusion programs in workplaces.
The Wellesley News Editorial Board firmly believes that the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down affirmative action will set back hard-won achievements of diversity in student bodies across the nation for generations. Simply deciding that race no longer needs to be a factor in the consideration of college admissions ignores the historic and ongoing oppression people of color face. Institutions of higher education like Wellesley were not built with the current student body in mind. The Wellesley community cannot afford to be set back by this decision without losing what makes our community so strong. It is affirming to see institutions throughout this country, Wellesley included, creating individual policies that work around this Supreme Court ruling. In a time where our country is governed by lawmakers and laws that move our progress backwards, we must always advocate for what is right.