Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
June 13, 2024

University broadcast criticizes SCOTUS decision to restrict affirmative action

By YANA MULANI | July 6, 2023

panorama-of-united-states-supreme-court-building-at-dusk

JOE RAVI / CC BY-SA 3.0

Students agreed with the University on the necessity of affirmative action and discussed the prejudices facing students of color in college admissions. 

In light of the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) ruling against consideration of racial background in the college admissions process, the University sent a broadcast email to the Hopkins community on June 29. The broadcast denounced the ruling and affirmed the University’s continued commitment to diversity.

In the email, University President Ronald J. Daniels acknowledged the structures in place that have historically obstructed the path to higher education for students of different backgrounds. He described the SCOTUS decision as a setback in constructing a diverse university community and further recognized the advantages that such a community brings.

“We know that a diverse student body enriches the educational experience and better equips our students to assume the responsibilities of citizenship,” the broadcast stated. “There is no doubt that the success we have enjoyed in ensuring full participation of underrepresented students is jeopardized by this decision.”

Students for Fair Admissions (SFFA) consists of more than 20,000 members and is largely funded by conservative trusts. The decisions in the cases Students for Fair Admissions, Inc. v. President and Fellows of Harvard College and Students for Fair Admissions, Inc. v. University of North Carolina overruled the landmark affirmative action case Grutter v. Bollinger, which held that considering racial identities in admission decisions was not in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment

The 6-3 vote against Harvard College and the 6-2 vote against University of North Carolina (UNC) on June 29 diverged from the assertion in Grutter v. Bollinger, arguing instead that the Harvard and UNC admissions programs were a breach of the Equal Protection Clause.

In the published opinion, Chief Justice John Roberts explained the decision to rule in favor of the petitioners. 

“Both 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 end points. We have never permitted admissions programs to work in that way, and we will not do so today,” he wrote.

Senior DJ Quezada criticized the utilization of the 14th Amendment in overturning race-conscious admissions programs in an email to The News-Letter. Quezada argued that the 14th Amendment’s original purpose was to attempt to redress the effects of slavery, thus making it necessarily race-conscious. 

“The efforts of conservative activists at Students for Fair Admissions and elsewhere to cast the 14th Amendment as race-neutral or colorblind text precisely turn the amendment’s meaning and purpose on its head, making this immensely powerful call to action for social justice into a tool that freezes history in place and defends the privileged and powerful,” he wrote. 

Junior Iman Hassanin emphasized that affirmative action does not lead to giving unqualified Black students a seat in university classrooms. In an email to The News-Letter, Hassanin defined the role of affirmative action as helping to alleviate years of barriers to higher education for Black students. She expressed her worry that, without affirmative action, Black students will have to work harder to achieve the same as other, less historically oppressed groups. 

The broadcast assured the community of the University’s intentions to pursue alternate avenues to race-conscious admissions. It revealed that Hopkins administration has been examining, and hoping to use as a guide, the approaches taken by other institutions in states where affirmative action, or similar, has been restricted.

“Drawing on the lessons of their experience, we will, to the best of our ability, continue to reduce the barriers that stand between exceptional students and the promise of equal opportunity that forms the bedrock of our country and our university,” the broadcast said.

In an email to The News-Letter, senior Emma Petite commended the University’s outline of its next steps and suggested that Hopkins should actively recruit prospective students from marginalized communities. She also pointed to the University’s decision to end legacy preferences in 2014.

“I’ve had so many professors tell me how dramatically the campus demographics changed after the school got rid of legacy admissions, so, as long as that work continues, Hopkins can continue striving towards a representative student body,” she wrote. 

In an email to The News-Letter, JB Bird, the University’s assistant vice president for media relations and news, elaborated on the specific actions that Hopkins is in the middle of pursuing. 

“Hopkins and peer institutions are in the process of working through the full implications of the ruling,” he wrote. “While JHU will comply with the court’s ruling, the University is actively working to understand how FLI programs and other programs can support our efforts to build a university community that represents our country’s rich diversity.”

According to the broadcast, in 2010, 6% of the incoming freshmen were Black students and 8% were Hispanic students. In contrast, in the Class of 2026, Black students make up 16% and Hispanic students 21%.

Quezada highlighted admissions programs that consider the collective experiences of racial groups as centrally important in understanding an individual prospective student. He identified higher education as one of few remaining avenues to upward mobility in the United States, writing that race-conscious admissions programs aid universities in accurately reflecting the country’s diverse social makeup. 

Petite recognized her privilege as a white woman and compared her position to that of people of color.

“It has been me and people who look like me who have benefitted the most from affirmative action, but you never see anyone accusing us of not belonging at elite universities,” she wrote. 

Similarly, Quezada emphasized the inequity of affirmative action, noting that types of affirmative action have always existed for certain groups. He specified that certain avenues to college, such as those of legacy admissions and private education, have disproportionately benefited white Americans. 

Echoing Quezada and Petite’s criticisms, Hassanin argued that removing affirmative action is not the solution to making admissions fairer.

“When making admissions fairer, the focus should be on legacy students or those whose parents donated a building, not the hardworking Black students that are already tremendously underrepresented in higher education and especially elite schools,” she wrote.

Hassanin also expressed her dislike of the rhetoric “my spot was stolen.” She opined that a university seat does not belong to anyone to begin with and that the expression implies that Black students are not equally deserving of the seat. She underlined how, today, high grades do not guarantee a seat at an elite institution. 

Petite reinforced this viewpoint, writing that, in reality, admission into elite institutions is a somewhat random process. 

“The self-obsession necessary to determine that you alone were robbed of a spot at Harvard due to your high school accomplishments is breathtaking,” she wrote.

Quezada claims that the conservative movement's opposition to affirmative action has been pitting white and Asian students against their Black, Indigenous and Latino peers. 

“We can’t let that happen. The deferred dream of racial justice can only be achieved if we reject the conservative movement’s attempts to divide us for their own gain!” he wrote.

Abigail Tuschman contributed reporting to this article.


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