Annulled admissions

Absence of affirmative action affects college applicants
Illustration by Kahlia Hsieh
Illustration by Kahlia Hsieh

When senior Shaila Venkat saw the U.S. Supreme Court overturn affirmative action on June 29, she sat confused because she “never thought it would come to fruition.” 

“I was really angry because I think that a lot of times it feels like America as a country is going backward and we’re getting rid of practices that are meant to ensure equality in our society,” Venkat said. “It just felt like something that people throw out there a lot.”

The court based its decision on Students For Fair Admissions, Inc. v. President & Fellows of Harvard College and Students for Fair Admissions v. University of North Carolina, holding that race-based admissions violates Title VI and the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause. The nonprofit group was founded in 2014 by Edward Blum “to defend human and civil rights secured by law, including the right of individuals to equal protection under the law.” 

Affirmative action was widespread in 1965 by then-President Lyndon Johnson to acknowledge discrimination of minorities and women, often in institutions of education and employment. In the context of higher education, it is the practice of considering applicants’ race and ethnicity as a factor in their admission. With many seniors applying to college, college counselor Angela Feldbush said she worries the new policy will not be representative of the general population.

“Affirmative action is an effort that the colleges are making to assure that they have diverse student bodies,” Feldbush said. “Historically, colleges would draw from upper middle-class White males, and we got to a point where as a society we realized it would be advantageous for college classes to be more [inclusive.]”

Students for Fair Admissions, Inc. v. President & Fellows of Harvard College claimed Harvard’s use of race and ethnicity in their personal ratings negatively impacts Asian Americans, and Students for Fair Admissions v. University of North Carolina alleged White and Asian students were discriminated against in considering race. 

“Because Harvard’s and UNC’s admissions programs lack sufficiently focused and measurable objectives warranting the use of race, unavoidably employ race in a negative manner, involve racial stereotyping and lack meaningful endpoints, those admissions programs cannot be reconciled with the guarantees of the Equal Protection Clause,” Students for Fair Admissions said.

Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the two majority opinions and said college admissions should be based on individuality. 

“[Many universities] have concluded, wrongly, that the touchstone of an individual’s identity is not challenges bested, skills built, or lessons learned but the color of their skin,” Roberts said. “Our constitutional history does not tolerate that choice.”

Senior Massimo Sullivan said his initial reaction was positive because of upcoming college applications. 

“I’m not in one of the groups that traditionally benefit from affirmative action,” Sullivan said. “So I knew for me specifically, it would likely better my chances of getting into the colleges that I want to apply to this coming fall.”

Venkat said that as an Indian American, she thinks Asians are overrepresented in higher education. According to the Pew Research Center, Asians make up 7 percent of the United States population, and the Harvard Crimson asserts they are 23.6 percent of the Class of 2025 and White students make up 53.1 percent. This is more than Black, Hispanic, South Asian, American Indian and Pacific Islander students.

“The whole issue people have with affirmative action is they think that it’s discriminatory against Asian people and Black and Hispanic students are prioritized more,” Venkat said. “That is not true. There’s going to be no significant increase in Asian people being accepted into higher education. If anything, there’s just going to be an increase of middle upper class rich White people and significantly less Black and Hispanic students.” 

Sullivan said he thinks college acceptances are more merit-based now. 

“If that’s going to change the data, I don’t know,” Sullivan said. “But it tends to be that those with the same scores of less admitted ethnicities have been benefiting more so in the past few years. So I wonder if it’s going to be more evened out now that affirmative action’s gone. My fellow seniors have very good merit portfolios when it comes to their academics, which should help them knowing that that’s going to be the main contributor to acceptances this year with affirmative action gone.”

Jaylynn Jeter, Black chapter president of the multicultural club, said although she understands the push against affirmative action, certain groups do get an advantage in education. 

“I definitely understand the Asian part of it, but I think affirmative action gives more opportunity to everyone,” Jeter said. “[Affirmative action] was a good idea because then for colleges to consider more diversity does give them a better look, and it gives more opportunities to minorities to go to college. Especially since [a lot of] minorities their parents or grandparents may not have attended college.”

Venkat said overturning affirmative action will disadvantage groups it was supposed to help. 

“It’s not leveling the playing field, it’s removing people’s access,” Venkat said. “It’s removing assistance that some need in order to get on to the field itself.  I’m still angry because I just think it’s really unfair and it’s going to result in a lot of students who deserve to go to these colleges being overlooked.”

According to U.S. News & World Report, West Shore has a 31.2 percent minority enrollment: 2.3 percent Black, 10.6 percent Asian, 10.5 percent Hispanic, 7.4 two or more races, and 0.4 percent American Indian/Alaska Native. Jeter said affirmative action would be helpful for her in her applications.

“It would give me a better chance to be considered to go to these colleges,” Jeter said. “I would feel more comfortable going to a school with more diversity since [West Shore doesn’t] really have any students like me. But there’s nothing we really can do.”

Feldbush said it will be difficult for colleges to increase diversity without considering race as a factor.

“I think everything’s going to be in flux while colleges figure out how to deal with that,” Feldbush said. “They’ve always given preferences to different groups, either to alumni, donors, or family members of staff and faculty. Those preferences still exist, but the ones that have been outlawed or any preferences that come strictly based upon race.”

Venkat said getting rid of affirmative action “doesn’t fix the problem in of itself.” 

 “Is the system messed up?” Venkat said. “Yes. I’m not going to act like affirmative action is perfect because it absolutely is not by any means, but we should be working on reforming affirmative action versus getting rid of it altogether.”

Venkat suggests getting rid of legacy admissions, a booster of an applicant’s chances of admission because they are related to an alumnus. Legacy preference does not guarantee admission, and it depends on the individual and the college they apply to.

“Legacy admissions is a much more insidious issue than affirmative action because affirmative action is trying to ensure everyone has an equal shot at college,” Venkat said. “It looks at historically disadvantaged groups and says, ‘Hey, we know that communities like yours have been disadvantaged over time, so we’re going to give that extra consideration when we’re looking at your application.’”

Feldbush said she supports an end to legacy admissions to “stop considering the factors that decrease diversity.”

“Legacy admissions historically will benefit rich White college students and they have plenty of advantages already,” Feldbush said. “So if we’re now not allowed to consider factors that would increase diversity, [we should do that.]”

Sullivan said despite the overturning of affirmative action, getting into college will still be difficult for everyone. 

“Those are very competitive applications no matter who you are,” Sullivan said. “Knowing that I’m going to be considered more fair is definitely something I’m happy about going into this application season. “I’m sorry for those who are going to maybe be at a disadvantage. But I think for our West Shore seniors, they’ll do just fine anyway.” 

Feldbush said students should consider using essays and supplements to address race and ethnicity.

“For some people, race or ethnicity is an important part of their story and they shouldn’t shy away from that,” Feldbush said. “I think it’s going to take several years for them to figure out exactly how to be more holistic in ensuring a diverse student body given the constraints of the new Supreme Court ruling.”