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What the Affirmative Action Ruling Means for DEI 

Corporate America has become the latest target in the crusade to upend diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts. Since the Supreme Court struck down affirmative action in college admissions, the person behind the lawsuits is suing the Fearless Fund, an Atlanta-based venture capital fund that invests in women of color-led businesses (AP News). The same month, his group filed federal lawsuits against two U.S. law firms over their diversity fellowships (Bloomberg Law). Other legal complaints challenge diversity programs and policies at companies like Kellogg, Target, and Starbucks (Reuters). These lawsuits claim that such DEI programs or identity-based grants are “racially discriminatory” in violation of the Civil Rights Act, which guarantees race neutrality. The onslaught of attacks raises questions on the future of diversity. 


• Support the Fearless Fund by signing this letter and/or donating to help bridge the gap in funding for women-owned businesses.

• Support student-led organizations fighting for diverseequitable, and inclusive learning institutions.

• Contact your state-elected leaders and demand they support DEI efforts. 

This year, 40 bills have been introduced in 22 states banning DEI measures, including DEI offices, mandatory DEI training, diversity statements in hiring, and consideration of identity-based information during admissions or hiring on college campuses (The Chronicle). Currently, five states have passed some form of anti-DEI legislation. Schools or staff in violation risk losing state funding, termination, or litigation. 

Critics of DEI claim such efforts are “exclusive,” “ineffective,” “politically charged,” and violate free speech (Texas Tribune). Texas Sen. Brandon Creighton, who filed the anti-DEI bill that passed in June, said they “prioritize social justice over merit and achievement”—a common sentiment among those opposed to affirmative action. Florida Gov. DeSantis called DEI “discrimination, exclusion and indoctrination” (CNN).  

The defunding of DEI efforts at public colleges and universities will affect how students from marginalized backgrounds receive support since DEI offices and staff work to make students (prospective and enrolled) feel welcomed, receive “extra help due to language or cultural barriers” (CNN), and access mentorship and safe spaces like university-run LGBTQ Resource Centers. Financial aid programs that factor in race and ethnicity when awarding aid, including grants and scholarships, are also being targeted, with some schools already discontinuing them (Washington Post). 

The weakening of DEI efforts on college campuses has implications for businesses that “depend on universities to recruit, admit, and train highly qualified, racially and ethnically diverse students to become the employees and business leaders of the future” (CNBC). It has also opened them up to litigation. 

“The entire point of these dark-money funded, rightwing groups that have been pushing these cases is that they want to eliminate the use of race in institutional decision-making,” said Alvin Tillery, professor and director of the Center for the Study of Diversity and Democracy at Northwestern University (Guardian). “Affirmative action in higher education ‘is not really the main event for racial equity in America. The main event is the workplace.'”

Following the Supreme Court affirmative action ruling in June, 13 Republican attorneys general sent a letter to the CEOs of Fortune 100 companies, warning them against “race-based quotas” and DEI programs. They also emphasized using “race-neutral principles.”

The problem with the race (and gender) neutral approach is that it ignores how the workplace and higher education are already influenced by race, gender, and other marginalized identities, with or without DEI efforts. Such programs work to “remove barriers that exist that may have blinded us to how we have [make] decisions” (Bloomberg Law).

It’s not “reverse discrimination” to remove barriers and implement policies to level the playing field. While quotas are illegal, recruiting and encouraging underrepresented groups to apply in order to “develop an applicant pool that reflects the demographics of the qualified labor force” is not (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission). This includes higher education

Instead of acknowledging this, women and people of color are often scapegoated as diversity hires or students who took their spots away from the more deserving and qualified, presumedly white male applicant. 

“Today, the playing field is not level — that is beyond dispute,” said Alphonso David, a civil rights attorney who serves as president & CEO of the Global Black Economic Forum (AP News). “They want us to pretend that inequities do not exist. They want us to deny our history.” 

Because of unaddressed systemic and structural inequality and lackluster DEI statements, marginalized people have created schools, organizations, and companies that invest and prioritize the needs of their community

This is why the Fearless Fund was created. Not to exclude, but out of the exclusion of women of color from the corporate landscape who are “overlooked,” “underfunded and unsupported” (Washington Post). 

Venture capital funding for women-led businesses dropped to 2.3% in 2020. In 2021, funding for Black women-led businesses was less than .35% (Crunchbase).

“When we set out to start we had one clear vision in mind, and that was to change the game for women of color,” said Ayana Parsons, the co-partner of Fearless Fund, the first venture-capital fund built by women of color for women of color-led businesses (ABC News). “Our rationale was simple. These women are the most founded, yet the least funded. They’re starting businesses at a much higher rate than any other demographic. Yet they lack access to capital, access to resources, access to networks.”

Identity-neutral policies cannot come in the absence of equitable change. Until we bridge the gaps created by centuries of systemic oppression, we must lean into DEI efforts, not roll them back. 


• Anti-affirmative action and anti-DEI legislation in higher education are affecting the workplace. 

• Critics of DEI argue it’s reverse discrimination, prioritizing diversity and taking opportunities away from qualified people. 

• Equality and equity cannot exist without diversity.

1200 675 Dominique Stewart

Dominique Stewart

Dominique is a writer and editor whose interests lie within the intersections of social justice and culture. She has written and edited for several outlets, including Brooklyn Magazine, The Tempest, and the Broward-Palm Beach New Times. Dominique was the managing editor for a women’s health magazine called Sidepiece Magazine.

All stories by : Dominique Stewart
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