Searching, for Justice

The Verdict

Searching, for Justice

The Verdict

Searching, for Justice

The Verdict

The End of Affirmative Action

Getty Images

Affir­ma­tive Action, a set of poli­cies enacted in 1965 that aimed at increas­ing educa­tion and career oppor­tu­ni­ties for histor­i­cally under­rep­re­sented and thereby disad­van­taged groups, was rejected by the United States Supreme Court on June 29, 2023.

In this deci­sion, the Supreme Court stated that under the Equal Protec­tion Clause of the Four­teenth Amend­ment, race, a protected class, cannot be a consid­ered factor in college admis­sions. The effect this change will have on the diver­sity of upcom­ing college classes is unclear, leav­ing high school coun­selors, admis­sions offices, and univer­sity appli­cants wonder­ing how previ­ous meth­ods will be altered.

Although there will be chal­lenges and demands K‑12 schools must fulfill to prepare students for new measures, Fair­fax County Public Schools, as well as several higher educa­tion offi­cials, have been prepar­ing for this restric­tion and are enact­ing new proce­dures in adjust­ment to the decision.

Some schools, such as Brown Univer­sity, display strong efforts to create new meth­ods to main­tain a student body that “[repre­sents] deep intel­lec­tual abil­ity and broad diver­sity of background.”

However, two ques­tions that insti­tu­tions of higher educa­tion are still work­ing to deter­mine are: What will the impact on histor­i­cally under­served groups be? And, how can schools such as Brown main­tain the bene­fits of diver­sity in light of this change to their admis­sions practices?

The main goal of Affir­ma­tive Action was help­ing disad­van­taged racial groups by bridg­ing historic inequal­i­ties in employ­ment and increas­ing access to educa­tion. It is widely debated whether these poli­cies heav­ily bene­fit­ted such groups or merely leveled the play­ing field.

Students at Justice High School, a diverse school with a large number of first gener­a­tion students, often strug­gle to navi­gate college appli­ca­tion and finan­cial aid systems. Other areas of vulner­a­bil­ity that higher educa­tion previ­ously consid­ered of students across the nation include disparate high school qual­ity, econom­i­cally vulner­a­ble house­holds, and finally racial background.

With no consid­er­a­tion of race, current seniors are worried about whether access to certain colleges will be altered. Senior Dibora Yilma believes that while not neces­sar­ily true, many students at Justice “have been made to believe that Affir­ma­tive Action was their ticket into these schools, or that they weren’t capa­ble of getting in on their own merit.”

The Supreme Court case, STUDENTS FOR FAIR ADMISSIONS, INC. v. PRESIDENT AND FELLOWS OF HARVARD COLLEGE states that “race is a deter­mi­na­tive tip for” a signif­i­cant percent­age “of all admit­ted African Amer­i­can and Hispanic appli­cants,” at Harvard. The second school in the Supreme Court case — Univer­sity of North Carolina (UNC) — noted that in the previ­ous UNC admis­sions process, read­ers consid­ered all appli­cants’ race, and could “[provide] an appli­cant a substan­tial ‘plus’ depend­ing on the applicant’s race.”

Yet, Justice High School’s Honors Govern­ment and AVID teacher, Eric Welch, does not see the Supreme Court deci­sion heav­ily affect­ing Justice High School senior appli­cants. “I think, first of all, [it was] a small percent­age of colleges where this actu­ally mattered — the very, very compet­i­tive ones. And it’s a very small percent­age of students that would have been affected.” Although Welch does acknowl­edge that several students at Justice were affected previ­ously — some­times posi­tively — he believes that “colleges were prepared for this change,” and they will continue to “prior­i­tize diver­sity and having students from multi­ple back­grounds go to their college.”

Since the Supreme Court ruling, colleges and univer­si­ties are no longer permit­ted to directly ask directly about the student’s race as a consid­er­able factor. This means higher educa­tion must find new approaches to attain­ing a diverse student body.

While colleges alter how they formu­late appli­ca­tions, Yilma believes the students’ approach will be mini­mally modi­fied. “The schools are the ones who have to navi­gate this change in how they can read appli­ca­tions, and my job is still to pack­age and present myself in the most authen­tic way possi­ble,” she said.

Although race can no longer be a blan­ket consid­er­a­tion in admis­sions, that does not mean that students cannot offer narra­tive infor­ma­tion about their back­ground that would make them attrac­tive to an institution’s desire for a diverse student body. Section VI of the Opin­ion of the Court asserts that univer­si­ties may still consider “an applicant’s discus­sion of how race affected his or her life, be it through discrim­i­na­tion, inspi­ra­tion, or otherwise.”

In an email sent out regard­ing essay prompts on updated appli­ca­tions, UVA Pres­i­dent Jim Ryan and Provost Ian Baucom stated that the infor­ma­tion gained from this response is consid­ered because it relates to a “person’s unique abil­ity as an indi­vid­ual to contribute to the univer­sity, and not on the basis of race or ethnic­ity alone.”

This prompts the ques­tion of whether an essay high­light­ing aspects of an applicant’s race and ethnic­ity places more of a chal­lenge on disad­van­taged students, who have less help at home or less assis­tance with writ­ing college appli­ca­tion essays. Many school systems, includ­ing FCPS, have programs to miti­gate disparate social capi­tal that fami­lies may or may not have as they navi­gate college admissions.

Dr. Lynette Henry, Manager of FCPS’s College Success Program (CSP), notes the district will likely need to add direct support and guid­ance for students to tell their stories, specif­i­cally through college appli­ca­tion work­shops and presen­ta­tions. Henry adds this will take partic­u­lar sensi­tiv­ity when work­ing with students who may have differ­ent levels of comfort shar­ing indi­vid­ual stories which “might be very painful,” or include some­thing that students “may not want to share.” The CSP acknowl­edges the impor­tance of help­ing students tell their story in a way that main­tains dignity and privacy, while also using the essay to lever­age what assets the indi­vid­ual can bring to a college community.

In the absence of racial consid­er­a­tions, college admis­sions offices are contem­plat­ing how other factors might be prox­ies for main­tain­ing or increas­ing the diver­sity that schools are worried will be nega­tively impacted by the end of Affir­ma­tive Action. Some exam­ples under consid­er­a­tion include ensur­ing spots for partic­u­lar numbers of first-gener­a­tion status students, students from a vari­ety of high schools, or econom­i­cally vulner­a­ble students.

A letter sent out by Colgate Univer­sity Pres­i­dent Brian W. Casey promotes the university’s full intent to explore further measures that must be taken to attract a gifted and diverse student body. Colgate Univer­sity has also joined a new recruit­ment consor­tium — which includes Cornell Univer­sity, the Univer­sity of Rochester, Syra­cuse Univer­sity, Haver­ford College, Carleton College, and Clare­mont McKenna College — designed to “intro­duce Colgate to even wider appli­cant audiences.”

Fair­fax County Public Schools is a massive system, compar­a­tively larger than many others in the coun­try. More­over, the strength and value of the resources provided to students in this district cannot be under­es­ti­mated. Henry believes “that as a district, [FCPS has] to prepare, [to] make changes that are neces­sary, and continue to support our students’ success.”

Addi­tion­ally, Welch notes just how useful the AVID program can be for Justice students, stat­ing, “[from] 11th grade into Senior year, what we give [students] in personal support is the equiv­a­lent of what some fami­lies spend $5,000 on.” Along with direct support from AVID teach­ers with essay writ­ing, the program offers oppor­tu­ni­ties such as one-on-one essay support from educated and expe­ri­enced lawyers, fee waivers for college appli­ca­tions, and visits to vari­ous colleges.

The AVID program, along with the work of Justice’s College and Career special­ist Ms. Ander­son, makes strong efforts to develop pipelines between Justice and other universities.

Teach­ers and offi­cials in FCPS, as well as higher educa­tion admis­sions offi­cials together empha­size the impor­tance of taking advan­tage of resources and oppor­tu­ni­ties that FCPS offers. The size of FCPS offers Justice students an advan­tage that is not avail­able to all students across the coun­try who may be impacted by this change. Robust support from programs such as district CSP and the AVID program provides many ways for a student to high­light the attrac­tive­ness of their multi­cul­tural back­ground and educa­tion in a school as diverse as Justice. Welsh concurs, stat­ing “There’s an assump­tion that [Justice] students needed affir­ma­tive action to get into college. I don’t think they neces­sar­ily did. [It] helps them, but we have students who do the IB diploma, who get over 4.0 GPA, who play sports, who are in the theater, in music, doing all these amaz­ing commu­nity service activ­i­ties — that makes ‘em compet­i­tive, I don’t care who they compete with.”

Leave a Comment
About the Contributor
Tess Maloney, Managing Editor
Tess Maloney is a junior in her second year writing for The Verdict, growing from a Staff Writer to the Managing Editor. She has a strong interest in historical literature and opinion based journalism.  Her favorite part of working on the paper is collaborating with other members and revising works for final print. Additionally, Tess is one of the contributing founders and Treasurer of the Journalism Club at Justice. Beyond her time spent towards schoolwork, she loves to read. Her favorite book is A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith.

Comments (0)

All The Verdict Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *