SCOTUS Could Kill off Affirmative Action with Devastating ResultsRoundup
tags: Supreme Court, higher education, affirmative action, colleges and universities
Keisha N. Blain is an award-winning historian and writer. She is an associate professor of history at the University of Pittsburgh and has written extensively on race, gender and politics in national and global perspectives. Her most recent book is Until I Am Free: Fannie Lou Hamer’s Enduring Message to America.
The future of affirmative action is once again at stake after the U.S. Supreme Court this week agreed to hear cases brought by Students for Fair Admissions against Harvard University and the University of North Carolina. The suit alleges that Harvard discriminates against Asian American students and that UNC discriminates against white and Asian American applicants. These criticisms of college admissions policies are not new, but the deeply conservative Supreme Court agreeing to hear those criticisms could signal the beginning of the end for affirmative action.
Eliminating affirmative action policies in higher education would have devastating consequences on students from marginalized communities. These policies, which conservatives have tried to eliminate since their inception, are designed to help redress centuries of educational and economic inequality in the United States.
During a June 4, 1965, speech at Howard University, President Lyndon B. Johnson, whose administration introduced such policies, provided his rationale for them. He explained: “You do not take a person who, for years, has been hobbled by chains and liberate him, bring him up to the starting line of a race and then say, ‘You are free to compete with all the others,’ and still justly believe that you have been completely fair.”
Johnson’s speech underscored the need for affirmative action policies, especially in the realm of education where Black and brown students had faced (and continue to face) an array of challenges. In a recent email to me, Crystal Sanders, an associate professor of history at Pennsylvania State University and the author of "A Chance for Change: Head Start and Mississippi's Black Freedom Struggle," wrote, “Race-conscious affirmative action policies in higher education have ensured that our colleges and universities are diverse and afford every student the opportunity to learn alongside people from various walks of life.” To that point she added: “These policies, which consider race as one factor among many in admissions decisions, are a necessary response to our nation’s long history of race-based educational inequality.”
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