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Why Affirmative Action Is Still Necessary

On June 29, the Supreme Court ruled that colleges and universities cannot consider race in admissions, ending affirmative action in higher education (Reuters). The ruling overturns nearly 50 years of precedent, including a 1978 decision that found race could be one of several factors in the admissions process. The decision will likely impact the number of minority students at nearly every selective college and university. 

The Court contends that the admissions policies of Harvard and the University of North Carolina violated the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment, with Justice Clarence Thomas stating the policies “fly in the face of our colorblind Constitution and our nation’s equality ideal.”

The ruling will not affect legacy admissions, policies that grant preference to the family members of alumni. Initially introduced to limit the enrollment of nonwhite students, legacy admissions continue to favor wealthy white students since higher education institutions did not accept minorities for more than a century (Washington Post). Harvard and UNC-Chapel Hill enrolled twice the number of legacy students than Black students for their 2020 freshmen classes (Education Reform Now). 


Follow conversations on affirmative action and how they impact your alma mater and/or schools in your community.

Ensure inclusivity efforts at your company or organization for all marginalized groups.

Consider: What policies or practices positively influenced your educational experience? How would your educational journey have differed if you had a different racial/ethnic identity?

 “With let-them-eat-cake obliviousness, today, the majority pulls the ripcord and announces ‘colorblindness for all’ by legal fiat. But deeming race irrelevant in law does not make it so in life. And having so detached itself from this country’s actual past and present experiences, the Court has now been lured into interfering with the crucial work that UNC and other institutions of higher learning are doing to solve America’s real-world problems.”

Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson in her dissenting opinion. 

The idea behind affirmative action is simple: create rules and regulations that require institutions to proactively pursue equitable practices, e.g., hiring and acceptance rates. This means choosing the best candidate, regardless of identity. But it also means including race, ethnicity, and gender in the selection process to ensure a diverse and equitable community. This creates a paradox: how do we equitably prevent racial discrimination without simultaneously reinforcing it? Most Americans support affirmative action programs for racial minorities and oppose hiring decisions considering racial backgrounds (Gallup).

Before we dive into the nuances, let’s explore why affirmative action is relevant to education. In America, communities of color have had significantly fewer educational opportunities than their white peers. From inequitable public school funding to redlining and the school-to-prison pipeline to lack of faculty representation, students of color face challenges to equitable educational opportunities. Unsurprisingly, students increasingly attend racially segregated schools post-Brown vs. Board of Education (Vox).

Historically, access to quality higher education in the U.S. has been reserved for the wealthy and privileged. These families have more opportunities to secure a spot for their children at prestigious universities (The Atlantic). Affirmative action at universities is designed to counteract these systemic disparities against marginalized groups, create an equal playing field, and boost inclusivity. Studies show that students who have benefited from affirmative action are more likely to graduate college, earn professional degrees, and make higher incomes than peers who haven’t. Affirmative action fosters necessary social mobility for disadvantaged populations (Harvard).

Critics of affirmative action in schools argue that it takes away spaces from white students who deserve the spaces. Ironically, the people who have benefited the most from affirmative action have historically been white women. When affirmative action was institutionalized in 1961 by President Kennedy, it focused on “race” and “color,” a direct response to the growing civil rights movement (Vox). In the late 1960s, the Women’s Movement encouraged President Johnson to amend the order to include gender. After two decades of affirmative action in the private sector, the California Senate Government Organization Committee found that white women held more managerial jobs (57,250) than African Americans (10,500), Latines (19,000), and Asian Americans (24,600) (Vox). Despite this, most white women oppose affirmative action, and most cases brought against affirmative action initiatives are led by white women (Vox).

But the Supreme Court ruling was in response to a Student for Fair Admissions (SFFA) suit, which argued that affirmative action hurts Asian American students. Affirmative action is intended to support people from all racial and ethnic backgrounds. However, there are concerns about how Asian Americans are treated based on the “model minority myth,” a stereotype suggesting that all Asian Americans are smart, hard-working, and likely to be successful (Wiley). Schools may cap the number of Asian American recipients to make way for other marginalized groups and hold Asian Americans to an unfair, higher standard (WGBH). This is called “racial balancing” and harms everyone, including Asian Americans. It reinforces stereotypes and treats Asian Americans as a homogenous group (American Progress). College attendance rates vary drastically among Asian ethnicities, so it’s crucial to hold affirmative action programs accountable for how they can fuel these disparities (American Progress). 

“A federal court found that forbidding Harvard from considering race in its admissions program could ‘reduce African American representation at Harvard from 14% to 6% and Hispanic representation from 14% to 9%'” (Vox). A similar policy at Yale was deemed discriminatory by the Trump administration in 2020, but the Biden administration dropped the lawsuit (NYTimes). Asian Americans Advancing Justice, an affiliation of five independent Asian American civil rights organizations, published a statement reiterating their support for race-conscious programs, stating that they “reject the use of Asian Americans as proxies” (AAJC website).

Some people have argued for shifting affirmative action from looking at race towards addressing class, supporting economically disadvantaged students across race and gender divides (The Atlantic). Others suggest that we need to shift away from this “quota” mentality to “outcomes” for systematically marginalized groups: less diversity, more reparations (The Atlantic). Whatever the case, it’s clear we need a more equitable solution. Part of that needs to be investing in solving the systemic inequities that created this issue.


The Supreme Court ruled that affirmative action policies in higher education is unconstitutional.

Affirmative action increases opportunities for Black and Latinx students. It can also support the “model minority” myth if Asian Americans are viewed as a homogeneous group.

Dismantling affirmative action can reduce collective accountability for the inclusion of marginalized communities.

2400 1600 Nicole Cardoza

Nicole Cardoza

Nicole is an entrepreneur, author, investor, speaker and magician passionate about reclaiming our right to be well.

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