The Othering & Belonging Institute is deeply disappointed with the US Supreme Court's ruling today curtailing the specific consideration of race in college admissions by private and public universities, but is confident that these institutions can nonetheless seek to make their campuses more vibrant and diverse through a variety of means left available to them under today’s decision.
Although the Court today reversed course after several decades of decisions affirming the constitutionality of the careful and narrowly-considered use of race as one of many factors in making admissions decisions, including as recently as 2016, today’s joint decision is nevertheless unsurprising. And while affirmative action through individual consideration of a university applicant’s race was a significant mechanism to advance diversity so that our campuses and other institutions reflect the pluralism of our country, it's not the only one.
Universities are still free to consider race-neutral alternatives that correlate with race or that advance the goal of racial diversity. Thus, instead of considering the race of the applicant, universities are free to consider the racial demographics of the high schools of the applicant or the neighborhoods the applicant grew up in, along with other characteristics that might correlate with race, including “financial means,” “generational inheritance,” and “status as first-generation college applicant,” as noted by several justices today. Universities and colleges may also undertake pipeline partnerships with disadvantaged high schools or encourage community college transfers, as two other programmatic possibilities also identified by the Court today to enhance and sustain diversity, among other initiatives.
These approaches may be less efficient or direct than race-specific approaches, but can nonetheless advance the goal of greater student body diversity. In light of the Court's ruling, we should demand and expect more focus and effort from university administrators on how to bolster diversity to make up for the loss of consideration of the racial identity of applicants in admissions. Today’s decisions underscore the necessity of taking up these alternatives and considering additional new strategies to ensure that existing levels of diversity are sustained or improved.
We remain committed to working with institutions to support their efforts to promote and maintain diversity despite this disappointing ruling. To that end, we have prepared detailed guidance on how to “advance equity” within the parameters of law, including those laid down today. Our new guidance provides helpful distinctions between confusing and often conflated terms, as well as practical guidance for what is permitted and what is not with many examples.
There remains ample room, despite today’s ruling, for public and private institutions alike to take steps to reduce racial disparities in society or within their organizations, to promote and advance diversity in a variety of arenas, and to advance the vision of a society where everyone can belong.
In the meantime, please also join us for a discussion on the implications of the Supreme Court's ruling with OBI Director john a. powell, Berkeley Law School Dean Erwin Chemerinsky, and Georgetown Law Professor Sheryll Cashin on Monday, July 3, at 11am PT / 2pm ET.
We also invite you to visit our website for a collection of resources on affirmative action.