What the Court's Ruling on Affirmative Action Means for Students of Color

Today the Supreme Court upheld the voter-backed Michigan law that bans affirmative action in Michigan. This particular case focused on the use of Affirmative Action for college admissions in the State of Michigan. What the court essentially said was that it was NOT unconstitutional for a state to decide if it could ban affirmative action once it was passed by voters.

Essentially, we are not dealing with the court saying that race based admissions is unconstitutional, HOWEVER what we are dealing with instead is that NOW any state can put a ban on affirmative action on a ballot and ban it if the voters say so. What we have seen in places like California, Texas and Michigan is that more likely than not people are going to ban it. A lot of the time, Affirmative Action backers rely on the argument that admission should be based solely on merit and not on the fact that someone is from an underrepresented group. However what this argument does not take into consideration is that while we might want to make it so that admissions is based solely on the fact that the students are a "perfect fit" for the college's class that particular year—the reality of the way that society in the U.S functions is that the playing field is not equal.

It is not hard to fathom for anyone who has lived in poverty why this is the case. When we are looking at admission we have to consider that a student with a 3.5 GPA and a 1950 SAT score who has grown up in urban cities in the U.S does not have the same academic experience as a 4.0 2200 student from the affluent suburbs a few miles away. The lives of these two students are vastly different, and while both have their challenges, the resources that the more affluent student has to deal with these challenges are accessible to them and not the student who is unable to afford help.

Affirmative Action is not a band-aid to racial inequalities in this country, the cut is open and it will not close until we can create a level playing field for all students. What Affirmative Action does is it allows the student an opportunity to at least consider the possibilities. Taking it away means that the state they are living in is making access to quality and affordable education nearly impossible. Am I being hyperbolic when I say impossible? You tell me.

I will use the University of California, Berkeley as an example (Go Bears, except with this, you all suck) in 1995, the last admitted class at UCB before prop 209 passed, the entering freshman class was 6.7% Black. Fast forward to 2013* the entering class was 3.4% Black. While the numbers were pathetic in '95, in 2012 they are an embarrassment to the institution. The applications for Black students are not coming in at the same rate as they used to either, Black students are just not applying as much as they used to in the past, because when you see that in a school that admits, 5600 freshman students, and only 3% look like you, LESS THAN TWO HUNDRED STUDENTS ENTERING WITH YOU LOOK LIKE YOU, it does not encourage you to apply.

I have heard that, well at least private schools have it figured out. Well, let's be honest, if you look at the numbers and the admit rate for students of color is less than 20% at the top 50 schools, they aren't doing much better than the public system. We have to stop pretending like things are equitable and fair for students of color anywhere. {{TANGENT}}Because private schools are not set up with the resources necessary to create an adequate experience for students of color, if we look at racially charged events on campus over the last year, we can clearly see that. This is a conversation I have been having with admissions offices for the last 5 years. They take my critique with them to their campuses and consider what I have to say, but honestly, if the institution is not taking the steps necessary to really support student of color there is very little change. The words "accessibility and equity" are very good selling points, but when you talk to the kids on campus, they are not feeling very accepted or supported at a lot of these schools.

I could go on all day, but I just am really upset and frustrated by today's decision. I honestly wanted to believe that we could move in a direction that would allow my job to become irrelevant. I applaud Justice Sotomayor for her dissent, "The Constitution does not protect racial minorities from political defeat. But neither does it give the majority free rein to erect selective barriers against racial minorities." This will pave the way for more attacks and I know we who work in the admissions world are just holding on to our hats and figuring out ways to protect our students, as we are seeing in real time how these policies are drilling away at our students' dreams.

* https://newscenter.berkeley.edu/2012/08/23/uc-... also note that this is for student who yielded and not admission totals as a whole. those can be found on https://newscenter.berkeley.edu/freshman-admission-data-2013/

**The rest of the data come from NACAC National Conference, Denver 2013. Presented by Jay Rosner, Ralph Figueroa, Ted Spencer and Youlanda Copleland. (I am an active College Counselor that participates in many conferences around the country)