Letter From Lauren: Affirmative Action Decision Unravels Equity
We Cannot Settle for a World in Which Gender, Racial, and Economic Equity are Allowed to Crumble
By now, it’s all over the news. On June 29, the Supreme Court in Students for Fair Admissions v. President and Fellows of Harvard College and Students for Fair Admissions v. University of North Carolina overturned longstanding, established precedent, declaring that all considerations of race in college admissions violate the Equal Protection Clause of the constitution. In the linked decisions, the court ruled that universities may no longer use any consideration of a candidate’s race, even as one of many other factors such as socioeconomic status, military background, and extracurricular activities, in the admissions process.
We don’t know all of the implications of the ruling at this time, but it’s safe to say that equitable access to education and subsequent economic opportunity to close wealth gaps are officially eroded. It is anticipated that this decision will not only undermine the benefits of educational diversity, but also have a particularly significant impact on the advances made by women of color.
Also, as of today potential student loan debt forgiveness no longer exists. Similarly, this Supreme Court decision further limits opportunities to advance and accelerate economic opportunity.
To achieve equity, systemic interventions, such as affirmative action, are required
The Women’s Foundation of Colorado believes that to achieve equity, systemic interventions that promote fair outcomes and close gaps to opportunity are required. Such opportunities strengthen our democracy, workforce and communities for the future. Resources must be redistributed to people who have historically and systemically been denied them based on their gender, race, class, or other intersections of identity.
Given our country’s long history of structural and systemic racism and the multigenerational impacts of slavery, affirmative action was one small way that universities closed opportunity gaps for Black and Latinx people. As a result of the Supreme Court’s decision, this tool can no longer be used to move us toward becoming a more just society.
I’m bereft, and I’m outraged.
Experts anticipate ruling on affirmative action could have widespread impact beyond college
Experts anticipate that this legal precedent could have widespread impact on equity and fairness beyond college, but that is yet to be determined. Regardless, our commitment to equity will not change. Data from the handful of states that passed laws banning affirmative action reveal its impact.
Inside Higher Ed notes that, “at the University of Michigan…Black undergraduate enrollment declined from 7 percent in 2006 to 4 percent in 2021, even though the total percentage of college-age African Americans in Michigan increased from 16 percent to 19 percent…. A comprehensive study of medical school admissions in states that have banned affirmative action found ‘devastating impact,’ with enrollment by students from underrepresented groups declining by one-third.”
An analysis by the Gender Action Portal reveals that, in the states that previously banned affirmative action, this decision, “led to a significant decrease in workplace diversity, compared to the states that kept affirmative action programs in place. There were sharp declines in Asian female, Black female, and Hispanic male representation.”
During the arguments before the Supreme Court in Students for Fair Admissions v. President and Fellows of Harvard College and Students for Fair Admissions v. University of North Carolina, 27 lawyers presented, only two of whom were women. When just 7% of a group is women, as is the case with the presenting lawyers on this historic case, it’s easy to see how far we have left to go. Elizabeth B. Prelogar, the U.S. solicitor general, rightly noted this figure shows how necessary affirmative action remains to ensuring equity. As Solicitor General Prelogar said, “When students of all races and backgrounds come to college and live together and learn together, they become better colleagues, better citizens and better leaders.”
We are not without hope, Colorado has proved itself to be committed to equitable rights
There are many reasons to be concerned. But we are not without hope. Colorado has proved itself to be a state committed to equitable rights, and we can continue this commitment.
We’ve resolved to channel our outrage into action. We at The Women’s Foundation of Colorado are unapologetic and undeterred. We reaffirm our deep commitment to gender, racial, and economic equity. We cannot allow access to opportunity, already circumscribed, to diminish further.
We will not rest amid concerted efforts by a well-funded machine seeking to undo democracy and maintain power by chipping away at equal rights state by state. The Supreme Court rulings overturning Roe v. Wade, organized efforts to ban books that acknowledge the existence of LBGTQ+ people and facts about racial discrimination and slavery, and this most recent affirmative action ruling are all attempts to undo progress toward a more equitable future.
As I look ahead, I hold fast to the words of the writer Mia Birdsong, whose work inspires me.
“If we give up, we definitely lose. Trying is the only option.”
I see many ways that we can try
I see many ways that we can try.
It is vital that we combine resources and support each other during the long journey ahead. We must find ways to strengthen and support leaders of color, especially young leaders, and ensure a diversity of perspectives. We call upon our philanthropic colleagues to remain rooted in their values, and to share their voices and resources with leaders fighting for equity. Lastly, we can look to universities as they implement innovative solutions to ensure access and opportunity as well as diversity.
I invite you to partner with us at The Women’s Foundation of Colorado. Donate to support our grantmaking for gender, racial, and economic equity, as well as our public policy advocacy work. Be on the lookout for the 2023 Womanifesto, our ballot guide that provides guidance for voting with gender, racial, and economic equity in mind.
Support national leaders, such as the NAACP’s Legal Defense Fund, the National Women’s Law Center, GLAAD, MALDEF, the Southern Poverty Law Center, PEN America, and Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains.
We do not know what future laws will come, but we know that we cannot settle for a world in which gender, racial, and economic equity are allowed to crumble.