In a major decision on June 29, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected affirmative action policies at colleges and institutions. The court determined that admissions practices at Harvard University and the University of North Carolina, which take prospective students’ races into consideration when deciding whether or not to admit them, are unconstitutional.
Although the decision will most adversely impact Black students, it may have a positive effect on historically black colleges and universities, resulting in increased enrollment, as there will be “less of an inclination on the part of Black students to apply to primarily white institutions,” Eddy Carder, an assistant professor of constitutional law and philosophy at Prairie View A&M, shared with Axios.
Here are how some HBCUs and their respective leadership responded to the ruling.
Columbia, South Carolina
Although the SCOTUS ruling to ultimately end Affirmative Action was disheartening, in a sense it continues a process in all facets of government to eliminating previously established rights. As an HBCU, we view the ruling as an affirmation of the important role these institutions have played in fostering and nurturing the intellects and talents of our community, and the likelihood that even more will soon discover these hidden gems.
CLARK ATLANTA UNIVERSITY
I am deeply disappointed by the recent decision of the Supreme Court to strike down affirmative action, as it has the potential to alter college admissions policies across the nation drastically. However, it is important to note that the decision applies explicitly to institutions that use race as a determinative factor in their admissions decisions. Many predominantly white institutions (PWIs) have already considered racial factors in their admissions decisions without making it the sole determinant, even before this ruling.
While the court’s decision has struck down an effective remedy for racism and discrimination, it inadvertently presents an opportunity for HBCUs, such as Clark Atlanta University, to anticipate increased enrollment opportunities for students of color who may be denied access to PWIs. HBCUs have provided excellent education options to African Americans since their founding, with Atlanta University established in 1865 and Clark College in 1869. We are prepared to continue offering these viable options of excellence in education.
It is important to emphasize that there are plenty of prospective students and interest in HBCUs. Clark Atlanta University alone received 26,000 applications for our Fall Class, while we have a limited capacity of 1035 seats.
The overwhelming number of applications received by Clark Atlanta University is a testament to the enduring demand for HBCUs and the belief in the transformative power of education. There is a strong desire among students of color to seek out institutions that prioritize their success and provide a supportive environment.
By joining forces and advocating for the importance of HBCUs, we can rise above this setback and continue our crucial work of empowering African American students and people of color through education. I remain deeply committed to serving my community and advocating for the transformative power of HBCUs.
Yours in Service,
George T. French, Jr., Ph.D.
DELAWARE STATE UNIVERSITY
Today, the United States Supreme Court issued a decision in two cases — Students for Fair Admission, Inc. (SFAI) v. President and Fellows of Harvard College and SFAI v. University of North Carolina — that disallowed institutions of higher education to formally consider race as a factor in admissions.
Since colleges and universities began admitting students of color during and after the Civil Rights Movement, they have had the latitude to consider a student’s race, alongside other factors, including academic merit, athletics, extracurriculars, and more, when choosing to offer a student admission.
In 6-2 and 6-3 decisions, respectively, the Supreme Court ended this practice for both private and public higher ed institutions.
Chief Justice Roberts wrote in the Court’s majority opinion, “Harvard and UNC admissions programs cannot be reconciled with the guarantees of the Equal Protection Clause,” referring to the U.S. Constitution’s 14th Amendment.
In simpler terms, Roberts wrote that we ought to begin proceeding as though we are colorblind.
Except, in America, we’re not.
The opening lines of the dissent written by Justice Brown Jackson observes, “Gulf-sized race-based gaps exist with respect to the health, wealth, and well-being of American citizens. They were created in the distant past, but have indisputably been passed down to the present day through the generations. Every moment these gaps persist is a moment in which this great country falls short of actualizing one of its foundational principles — the ‘self-evident’ truth that all of us are created equal.”
Justice Sotomayor’s dissent adds, “In so holding, the Court cements a superficial rule of colorblindness as a constitutional principle in an endemically segregated society where race has always mattered and continues to matter. The Court subverts the constitutional guarantee of equal protection by further entrenching racial inequality in education, the very foundation of our democratic government and pluralistic society.”
I don’t need to explain to members of the Historically Black College and University (HBCU) community—or anyone who’s made even an informal study of the ‘separate but equal’ circumstances that predicated our founding—that race is most certainly a “plus factor” in admissions—admission to higher ed institutions, entrance to prisons, consideration in courts, treatment in medical settings, and on and on. Race is a “plus factor” because it’s been, for centuries, a “minus factor.” And our contemporary environment is a result of hundreds of years of uneven enactment of our founding principles.
One can argue about whether a policy like affirmative action would ever reach its natural end. This is not an unworthy question, but, today, the need remains. Inequality remains. The Supreme Court has made a decision which will most assuredly have what some describe as a chilling effect on college matriculation for people of color and which others decry as injurious to the very fabric of our broader society.
Not only will this decision affect higher ed admissions, but, according to the ACLU, employers will find it more challenging “to take steps to promote equity and diversify their workforce. Dozens of government programs that address past and current discrimination, advance racial equity, and seek to close the racial wealth gap, such as business incubator programs, could also be jeopardized.”
In his dissent of the Regents of Southern California v. Bakke case (1978), Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall wrote, “For it must be remembered that, during most of the past 200 years, the Constitution as interpreted by this Court did not prohibit the most ingenious and pervasive forms of discrimination against the Negro. Now, when a state acts to remedy the effects of that legacy of discrimination, I cannot believe that this same Constitution stands as a barrier.”
He continued, “The position of the Negro today in America is the tragic but inevitable consequence of centuries of unequal treatment. Measured by any benchmark of comfort or achievement, meaningful equality remains a distant dream for the Negro.”
One need only glance at contemporary statistics to affirm what Justice Marshall called the “distant dream,” but I believe, as I hope you will, too, that our distinct role as an HBCU is to draw it ever closer. And we do.
More students of color, who might have chosen to apply to a predominantly white institution, will now apply to and attend an HBCU instead. HBCUs — and an ever-broadening array of HBCUs — will draw a greater number of talented students of color.
We will welcome them as we have always done. And we will need stalwart partners to help us in our work.
I echo a statement issued today by the Thurgood Marshall College Fund: “In light of this unprecedented decision, it is imperative, now more than ever, that America’s corporate leaders make an intentional effort to engage our HBCUs to ensure that their companies are finding and helping to cultivate the best and brightest students of color that our nation has to offer. Additionally, it is more critical now that Congress passes the IGNITE HBCU Excellence Act to provide HBCUs and their students with the critical infrastructure grants needed to improve institutional facilities, increase broadband access, provide access to cutting-edge technological resources, decrease environmental hazards, and establish or enhance centers for innovative research.”
– President Tony Allen, Ph.D.
New Orleans, Louisiana
While Dillard University is disappointed in today’s Harvard/UNC decision by the Supreme Court, we strongly urge the higher education sector to work fervently and creatively on ensuring our campuses reflect the diversity of our nation and provide access to all who want to study.
The decision is especially disheartening considering that the Court has previously acknowledged what we in the higher education space have known for decades, namely that, “a diverse student body promotes cross-racial understanding, helps break down racial stereotypes, and enables students to better understand persons of different races.” In prior decisions, the Court has also acknowledged that, “student body diversity promotes learning outcomes, and better prepares students for an increasingly diverse workforce and society.”
The Court’s decision today has made it harder to achieve these essential educational objectives. Nevertheless, we hope that it will lead to broad collaboration between institutions that have traditionally served a primarily white population and those serving minority populations.
Dillard University, as the oldest HBCU in Louisiana, remains committed to providing access to those impacted by societal barriers, whether such barriers are based on race, caste or class. We were founded more than 150 years ago for the purpose of educating Black Americans and are steadfast in our commitment to elevate Black Americans through a high quality education that cultivates leaders who live ethically, think and communicate precisely and act courageously to make the world a better place.
We will continue to partner with Predominantly White Colleges and Universities, community colleges, Hispanic serving institutions, tribal colleges and high schools across the nation to ensure that this decision does not stifle opportunities for those who have been served through affirmative action programs.
Additionally, we need employers to recommit to recruiting talent from Minority Serving Institutions and HBCUs like Dillard where the pool of talent will remain strong and disproportionately large. We invite the entire Higher Education Community to do what Justice Jackson called us to do in her eloquent dissent, namely, “stare at racial disparity unblinkingly, and then do what evidence and experts tell us is required to level the playing field and march forward together, collectively striving to achieve true equality for all Americans.” We stand with those who remain committed to this goal.
Today’s Supreme Court decision to overturn affirmative action is deeply concerning. As a University dedicated to racial equity and justice, and whose faculty, students and storied alumni have advocated on the front lines to achieve equitable access for people of color, we understand the incredible challenge this decision will create for far too many individuals and communities.
The decision will not only have a devastating impact on the diversity of colleges and universities across the country, but will also decrease access to higher education for students of color everywhere. Education is still a top driver of economic success for all Americans, and this decision will have far-reaching ramifications for those seeking equity in the college admissions process and beyond.
At our core, Howard University is committed to developing scholars and professionals who drive change. At a time when we need it most, it is disheartening to know that this ruling will hinder certain students from gaining admission to institutions of higher learning and receiving a quality education that can prepare them to be change agents and contributing members of our society.
We will continue to partner with those institutions and organizations that understand the critical role affirmative action has played in ensuring equitable access to education for students of color and will closely monitor how today’s decision will impact higher education trends in the short and long term. We will also encourage others to join us in advocating for policies and legislation that safeguard a stronger future by increasing, not decreasing, educational opportunities for all.
JACKSON STATE UNIVERSITY
Jackson State University remains committed to ensuring a diverse population of students of all ethnicities. We offer several programs that have garnered interest from students of all backgrounds and will continue to promote access for all. We stand with our peer institutions who aspire to foster campus atmospheres that attract students of all backgrounds. Jackson State University will continue to prepare students for various graduate and professional programs with our partner institutions to enhance our global society.
– Acting President Elayne Hayes Anthony, Ph.D.
JOHNSON C. SMITH UNIVERSITY
Charlotte, North Carolina
Johnson C. Smith University, founded in 1867 for the education of men who were recently freed from enslavement, has long been committed to providing a high-quality education to students from diverse racial, ethnic, socio-economic and geographic backgrounds. The University is concerned the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision that higher education institutions cannot use race as a factor in admissions may limit access to higher education for Black and Brown students, particularly access to elite private and flagship state-supported universities.
“Today’s Supreme Court decision rolls back decades of thoughtful consideration of race in admission decisions for institutions of higher education,” said JCSU President Clarence D. Armbrister. “It is a sad day for diversity in America. By limiting race in admissions decisions, the Supreme Court has begun to reconstruct the roadblocks that blocked the paths of African Americans in this country for the over four hundred years we have been here. Those of us who work at HBCUs already know talent can be found in all hues of people.”
As one of the nation’s oldest and best small, private historically Black universities, Johnson C. Smith University is an excellent option for Black students seeking a college education in a nurturing environment that affirms their heritage and prepares them to be leaders in the rapidly changing 21st century workplace. Our rich HBCU traditions, market-driven academic majors and location in one of the nation’s fastest growing cities, makes JCSU a top choice for students seeking academic rigor, individualized learning, impactful internships, and solid preparation for graduate schools and successful careers.
JCSU remains committed to providing an affordable, academically rigorous education and vibrant student life programs for all traditional and non-traditional students seeking a college education. We will join with other colleges and universities in monitoring the impact this Supreme Court ruling has on higher education in the United States.
MEHARRY MEDICAL COLLEGE
Today the Supreme Court dealt a severe blow to millions of Black and Brown Americans, far beyond college campuses. In the name of equity for the nation’s most privileged students, the affirmative action ban will amplify injustices from higher education to hospitals. We can expect the vast chasm of racial representation in health care to widen even further. As the number of Black and Brown medical school graduates plummets, the ban will effectively rip away the hard-won lifeline of care for America’s most underserved populations.
– James E.K. Hildreth
I stand with you deeply disappointed, yet not surprised, by the United States Supreme Court’s decision to reject race-conscious affirmative action in college admissions. This is a disservice to our nation and its commitment to equity and equality. Affirmative action has long been an essential tool in the fight against systemic inequalities experienced by marginalized communities and has expanded access to educational opportunities that contribute to creating a more just society. At Morehouse College, we hold diversity as a fundamental principle that enriches the educational experience for all students, and we are steadfast in our belief that every individual should have an equal chance to succeed and thrive regardless of their background or circumstances.
As a top feeder school for Black men entering prestigious graduate schools and MBA programs, this decision presents additional challenges for our students. At my alma mater, Yale University, the impact of this decision is already estimated to result in a 40% reduction in Black students. Attendance at selective predominately White colleges and universities too often over-determines the likelihood of gaining access to powerful and influential positions; one needs only to examine the resumes of our Supreme Court Justices and their clerks over the last 40 years to see the evidence. We can also find it by reviewing the educational pedigrees of those politicians applauding the decision. However, historically Black colleges and universities such as Morehouse College are unparalleled in their track records of producing individuals who have gone on to lead in every sector of our society.
For those wondering, “What do we do now?” in the face of this decision, it is not about creating new programs or organizations but scaling and adequately resourcing those that have a legacy and proven track record of providing solutions to inequality and increasing diversity in every sector of national life. The question we must answer is whether the philanthropists, foundations, and corporations that declared a commitment to address racial equity will invest at the highest levels to scale and resource HBCUs such as Morehouse in ways comparable to what is frequently done for predominantly White institutions. Morehouse and schools such as Yale and Harvard have much in common, judging by the contributions and achievements of their graduates. The primary differences can be attributed to the size of their endowments and unrestricted giving.
At Morehouse, this ruling compels us to redouble our efforts in programming and partnerships that advance social justice and equal access to education and opportunity. We remain resolute in our mission, guided by our 156-year legacy, and driven by our unwavering belief in the transformative power of education and equitable access:
- We will continue cultivating the current and next generation of business leaders from the Morehouse Innovation & Entrepreneurship Center.
- We will continue to develop Black male educators and administrators through our Center for Excellence in Education.
- We will continue developing the next STEM leaders in our Center for Broadening Participation in Computing.
- We will continue offering training on race and biases for for-profit and non-profit companies and organizations through our National Training Institute on Race and Equity.
- We will continue to provide pathways to a college degree for men who started their higher education journeys but could not finish due to life’s circumstances through Morehouse Online.
- We will continue to send our young men on domestic and international educational and service trips through the Andrew Young Center for Global Leadership.
As a nation, we must not only engage in thoughtful and constructive conversations about creating inclusive pathways for all individuals seeking higher education but also take action with our time and our wallets to ensure our discussions become sustainable realities with real impact. Morehouse College is committed to fostering a supportive and inclusive environment that prepares its students to become leaders who will address the complex challenges of our time. We remain uncompromising in our dedication to providing educational opportunities to talented young minds from all walks of life while ensuring they have the resources and support necessary to excel academically in a space specifically designed for their development into men with disciplined minds who live lives of leadership and service.
Morehouse, as an institution and a community, will continue to carry its torch and “be the light” by harnessing the potential of education to dismantle barriers, bridge divides, and forge a future where equal opportunity prevails for all. We welcome you to join us in this endeavor.
Et Facta Est Lux,
President David A. Thomas, Ph.D.
We are deeply disappointed by the United States Supreme Court’s decision today to strike down affirmative action, which allowed colleges to consider race as a factor in their admissions policies. This ruling reverses generations of progress that opened the doors for Black and brown communities to have equal access to higher education at institutions of their choice. It also goes against the growing diversity of our nation and the importance of diversity for our democracy.
The impact of the Court’s decision does not end with college campuses. There are far-reaching implications that will also affect diversity across all sectors of our society. I look forward to working with my colleagues across HBCUs and MSIs to continue our legacies of providing access to quality education to Black and brown students.
We are reviewing the Supreme Court’s decision to determine the impact on our College.
Helene D. Gayle
President of Spelman College
XAVIER UNIVERSITY OF LOUISIANA
New Orleans, Louisiana
Today, the Supreme Court ruled 6:3 to make unlawful the consideration of race in admission to colleges and universities. The likely result will be a decline in representation of underrepresented students in many higher ed institutions.
Throughout the history of this nation to this very day, equity of educational opportunity and access has not been afforded to all Americans. This impoverishes the nation in depriving her of the talent manifest in the minds of so many.
Now is the moment to which we are called to imagine a way forward that assures equity and justice.
– Dr. Reynold Verret
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