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Affirmative Action Struck Down by Supreme Court; How will SHP Respond?

Universities take into account a wide array of factors when making admissions decisions. They consider standardized test scores, athletic ability, letters of recommendation, extracurricular involvement, and other criteria to create their student body. Of these factors, race has remained the subject of controversy. Until recently, affirmative action policy granted independent universities autonomy in creating a diverse student body by allowing them to factor race into prospective students’ applications. On June 29th, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Students for Fair Admissions in the case Students for Fair Admissions v. Harvard. The verdict ended nearly 40 years of race-conscious admissions practice in higher education in the United States and leaves the next generation of college applicants, including all SHP students, with questions about what the future holds.

SHP Director of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Access, Dr. Benjamin Su, shared his personal experiences with how affirmative action shapes higher education and how he envisions the end of affirmative action might affect the students of the Prep. “I entered UC Berkeley in 1997, a year after affirmative action was struck down in California, and my class saw the immediate impact, specifically in the Black and Hispanic populations on campus, of the new policy.” Dr. Su’s experience can be reflected in numbers. According to UC Berkeley News Center, in 1996, Black students made up 7.3 percent of Berkeley’s student body. The following year that number dropped to 3.4 percent. This significant drop in the population of underrepresented minorities on college campuses is what is predicted to happen as a result of the case, but ultimately it isn’t possible to gauge exactly how this will play out. 

When asked about the future of race-conscious admissions, Dr. Su said, “American society is not an even playing field […] at the very least we as a society need to understand inequality, the relation it has to racial identity, and the historical starting points that exist in American society.” He went on to speak about the verdict’s foreseeable effects on independent schools like SHP. “These same conversations that are happening at the higher education level, are happening at independent high schools around the country.” 

According to Dr. Su, as of now, the system for admissions on the high school level remains unaffected. The case was focused strictly on admissions practices at the higher education level. To better understand some of those conversations, SHP’s Director of College Counseling, Joel Dobben, offered a perspective on the situation. He referred to the court’s verdict as “a decision that [the College Counseling Department] had been anticipating since the oral arguments in late October of 2022.” When asked how the new policies have changed the practices in the College Counseling Department, Mr. Dobben said, “In terms of our advising of students, not a lot has changed. What has changed in the wider scope of admissions is how colleges have responded.” The Supreme Court’s verdict eliminated the process of considering an applicant’s race as a checkbox but allows universities to use race in a holistic review if an applicant volunteers information regarding their race or ethnicity through other elements of the application like an essay.

 According to Mr. Dobben, many colleges have completely redesigned the formats of their supplemental essays to adapt to the new policies on race-conscious admissions. He says that many of the prompts are geared toward allowing students to volunteer information about their identity and background while remaining in compliance with the policies. He elaborated that universities also utilize identification programs, where students of different ethnic backgrounds are invited on campus in order to attract more diverse demographics. 

Mr. Dobben finally addressed the goals of race-conscious admissions and the benefits it has had for universities and their students. He said race-conscious admissions bring “every student on the college campus more exposure to different perspectives and different lived experiences” to get a fuller experience of the world and to celebrate those differences. I wouldn’t say it was fully accomplishing its goals, underrepresented students are still underrepresented on college campuses. But in the end, I think colleges will still recognize the educational benefits of diversity and students will continue to educationally benefit from diversity even if colleges are not able to consider race and ethnicity in the same way moving forward.” 

In terms of the future, all remains to be seen. Considering the social climate of our country today, it is logical to conclude that race will remain a relevant factor in the identities of many Americans for the foreseeable future. The topic of race-conscious admissions will likely remain relevant, and the direction of the discussions on the policies will have a significant effect on the structure of higher education. As our society moves forward, it is vital to emphasize the importance of prioritizing diversity while keeping the process of admissions equitable. As Dr. Su said, “We need to work towards creating a more just, equitable society where everyone has opportunities.”

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