Harvard University is one of the institutions on trial for unfair race-based admissions against Asian American students. Photo: @harvard on Instagram

In Jan. 2022, the supreme court ruled to hear the cases against Harvard University and the University of North Carolina (UNC) regarding race-based admissions. Affirmative action serves as a way for colleges and universities to create diverse environments and give historically marginalized groups of people equal opportunity. This decision comes as a direct result of the new conservative supermajority in the supreme court. The new court does not fear straying away from tradition, as the conservative body is hearing cases that threaten abortion as well. 

Affirmative action began in 1961 under President Kennedy in order to include more voices of varying races, genders and sexualities in education and other institutions. At the University of Texas at Austin, the most recent race-based admissions case went to the supreme court and continued the precedent that race can be used as a factor in college admissions. However, these two cases will be the biggest challenges yet for the future of affirmative action.

At UNC, plaintiffs made the case that the admissions team favored Hispanic and Black applicants as opposed to white and Asian American. Meanwhile, applicants accused Harvard of discriminatory policies against Asian American students specifically, including judging them unfairly based on qualities such as likability, according to The New York Times. Harvard and UNC lawyers maintain their belief that race-based admissions are legal and necessary to create a diverse student body. 

In terms of the drawbacks of affirmative action, some professors and students believe that the system actually reinforces stereotypes and allows for admissions teams to not admit students because they are not of a certain racial or ethnic background. Edward Blum, the founder of the Students for Fair Admissions organization, believes in the holistic judgment of prospective students instead of classifying a student as a “representative of a racial or ethnic group” in order to fit “prescribed racial quotas.” 

On the other hand, affirmative action provides universities with the freedom to implement the necessary campus diversity. It allows for students of color or students from historically marginalized groups to have a fair chance at admission when their background or upbringing may not have allowed them to do so. Thus, colleges have a way to navigate some of the systemic inequalities that put so many qualified candidates at a disadvantage. Especially with an increased focus on racial justice in recent years, most universities maintain that affirmative action is a vital and lawful tool in college admissions.

According to The New York Times, a legal ruling against affirmative action would increase the number of Asian American and white students enrolled at top universities and decrease Latino and Black students. Demographics at these schools would look vastly different, and a decades-old legal precedent, upheld in multiple supreme court cases since its establishment, would be broken. However, Americans will most likely not know the verdict on race-based admissions in the future until as soon as 2023 after these cases are carried out.

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