Podcast: Thoughts on the SCOTUS Decision

We’re on a break for all of July, but I just had to pop in to share some brief thoughts on the affirmative action ban’s impact on college admissions.

We’ll be back in August – enjoy your summer!

TRANSCRIPT

Sheila Akbar: 

Hi, everybody,just popping in to let you know we’re on break in July. And I have so many thoughts about this Supreme Court decision must share just a few of them with you now, but certainly expect to hear more about this when we return in August. So, right at the end of June, the Supreme Court ruled on the affirmative action cases before it that were regarding whether colleges could use race as a factor they consider when evaluating students for admission. And I want to put out this big caveat here, I am not a lawyer, I am not a constitutional scholar.I’m not an expert on the Supreme Court, nor am I an expert in all things, diversity, equity, and inclusion. There are really brilliant expert voices sharing their thoughts and perspectives on this issue and their insight.And you should absolutely read them, and listen to them on these topics, particularly, you know, the technical, legal aspects and the and those sorts of aspects. But what I do want to share are some thoughts on what I think we should be watching. We meaning us lay people out here who are grappling with what are the practical implications of this going to be for, you know, me for my business in advising students, but also parents who may be listening, thinking about, well, what does this mean for my kid, and the thing that I want to highlight is that in in the majority opinion, Justice Roberts closed with an I’m gonna quote this here, nothing prohibits universities from considering an applicants discussion of how race affected the applicants life, so long as that discussion is concretely tied to a quality of character,or unique ability that the particular applicant can contribute to the university and quote, so, he goes on to say some things that I think are a little bit problematic. But what I want you to focus on is this acknowledgement, that even though this decision is barring universities from considering race, as a superficial quality,they can still consider how race has impacted a student’s life.As long as the student is talking about how that impact has shaped them as a person or taught them something, or contributed to, you know, this quality of character or unique ability that Roberts is talking about elsewhere. In the opinion,there is this sentence, that gives me some pause, quote,universities may not simply establish through application essays or other means, the regime we hold unlawful today and quote, which means they can’t just be looking at the essay to say, Oh, this kid is Latino, let’s let them in.Because we need more Latinos, or this kid is Asian, we need more Asians, let’s let them in. Now,I don’t think any university was actually ever doing anything like that, even when they’re looking at a student’s race as explicitly indicated. But this I think, creates a really gray area for universities that they’re going to have to figure out how they want to navigate.And of course, their legal teams are going to figure that out. I don’t have any ideas for them.This seems awfully murky to me.But there are so many colleges who have responded to this opinion with really beautiful,inspiring statements about their commitment to diversity, and how they know that a diverse student body leads to better outcomes.These colleges that want to maintain this commitment to to having a diverse, diverse class,I think are going to have to thread that needle very carefully how they walk that line. But there are models out there. For example, the state of California has not been allowed to consider race in admissions at its public university systems since 1996. And you can and should read more about what happened after 1996 At the most selective public universities like UC Berkeley or UCLA, and what those admissions offices have done to gain back some of the diversity that They lost when when that decision came down and actually the dean of admission at at Berkeley, wrote a nice piece in The New York Times recently about this in response to the the Supreme Court decision, I encourage you to go read that. So the thing that I’m curious about here is how colleges are going to navigate being allowed to consider the impacts of race,but not being allowed to consider race. That seems like a very tricky distinction. And I think that one of the things that this decision may do is make colleges a little more worried about litigation, when a student may feel disadvantaged or disgruntled to complain that the university was still using race in some way that was deemed unconstitutional. I also think the obviously very sad fallout of this opinion is going to be fear among applicants, as well,I think there are a lot of students and families that are already quite worried about disclosing their racial background, or ethnic background on their applications. And I think this will make them more worried about that. One of the things that the opinion seems to be saying, in very practical boil down terms, is what actually has merit. And they’re saying race doesn’t have merit.That unless a student is explicitly saying how race has contributed to their own character, worldview, skill,quality, whatever you want to call it, unless they can talk about how their experience with race has done that for them,then their race has no merit on its own. Which I think on the face of it, most people will say, Yeah, you know, person’s race doesn’t hold merit on its own. But I think any person of color will tell you, being a person of color in the United States, being aware of one’s racial difference in the United States, changes their experience. And those changes shape a person, but many students are either not quite ready to talk about that.Everybody’s on their own journey of understanding their own identity. And the world, of course, and then other students may resent having to talk about that. Not only do they have to bear the brunt of, you know,discrimination and other injustices, but then they have to display it for colleges, to understand this whole student,this whole scholar, they have to bear their trauma, or they have to walk this fine line of is it going to seem like I’m playing the race card? Or am I gonna have to go somewhere really personal to prove to the admissions office that I have this quality? or explain why I am the way I am? I just think that’s a really hard position to put students in. I think, as the dust settles, and it becomes clear how colleges are going to actually respond, you know, are they going to change questions?Are they going to lean more on financial aid? Are they going to change their recruiting strategies? Are they going to double down on making their universities an inclusive and welcoming place for all types of students, as we wait to see what, what moves they make? I think those of us who speak with students who have children who are going through this process or about to go through this process, I think we need to think very carefully about how we communicate around these challenges. And these changes,because I, for one, want students to feel comfortable and confident in sharing their whole selves and knowing it will not hurt them in the application process. And that sharing and embracing their whole selves is meaningful.So that’s, that’s what I’m going to share. And of course, there will be more and we’ll have more experts on to talk about this in in greater technical detail as we return in August. Until then,I encourage you to go back to a couple of episodes that we started with. One is Akil Bello’s episode on standardized testing. We do talk a bit about racial bias and equity issues there. And then there is the panel on whether certain groups face a higher bar in college admissions. And then the third one is my episode with Marie Bigham, who is just a wonderful person who’s really tied into all of the implications of this decision, who is at the forefront of working on solutions to create a more accessible and equitable higher education system in the United States. So encourage you to check out those those episodes in the meantime, and try to enjoy your July and we’ll talk to you again in August!

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