Leaders of Harvard student cultural groups expressed disappointment — and cautious optimism — following the Supreme Court’s decision Monday to hear a set of lawsuits challenging race-conscious admissions practices.
Anti-affirmative action group Students for Fair Admissions brought the lawsuits against Harvard and the University of North Carolina, alleging the schools discriminate against Asian American applicants and violate civil rights law by considering race in their admissions processes. Lower courts ruled in favor of the schools, which deny the allegations, but SFFA petitioned the Supreme Court to review the decision in February last year.
Harvard student leaders and alumni voiced dismay over the Supreme Court’s decision to hear the case, which could determine the future of affirmative action in higher education.
Asian American Womxn’s Association co-president Angie D. Shin ’23 said race is an “inevitably impactful factor” to consider in admissions. She added she is “curious” about how the case will be ruled, both due to the Supreme Court’s makeup — a 6-3 conservative majority — and the case’s complexity.
“I am very apprehensive because of the current lineup of Supreme Court justices that will be reviewing the case, and also because the case has a lot of moving parts,” Shin said.
In their petition, SFFA asked the Supreme Court to overturn Grutter v. Bollinger, a landmark case which ruled in favor of race-conscious admissions policies in higher education admissions in 2003.
Thuan H. Tran ’23-’24, a co-coordinator for the Task Force for Asian American Progressive Advocacy and Studies, said he was “ultimately optimistic” that the Supreme Court would rule in favor of affirmative action due to legal precedent.
“There is a very well-seated 40-year precedent of upholding affirmative action programs,” Tran said. “But I share the pessimism in terms of the current demographic makeup and ideological makeup of the court.”
In a statement shared through the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People Legal Defense Fund, which represents 25 Harvard student and alumni cultural organizations, Fuerza Latina leaders Nayleth E. Lopez-Lopez ’23 and Santy Mendoza ’23 wrote that they were “hurt and disappointed” by the Court’s decision.
“It will be painful to have to go through the stress of another legal battle wherein students’ right to celebrate all aspects of our identities and contribute to a more diverse school community would be put into question,” their statement read.
Farah M-A Afify ’22, president of the Phillips Brooks House Association, wrote in the Legal Defense Fund statement that Harvard’s admissions process allowed her identity to be considered more holistically when she applied.
“Because of affirmative action, my history as an Arab and Muslim immigrant contextualized the rest of my achievements, allowing my life and experiences to be considered more fully during the admissions process,” Afify wrote.
Michael G. Williams ’81 and Jeannie Park ’83, co-founders of the Coalition for a Diverse Harvard — a group which says it represents nearly 2,000 alumni, students, staff, and faculty — wrote in a set of emailed statements that there would be widespread negative implications if the Court sides with SFFA.
“It would further limit the opportunities of marginalized students and communities, including Asian Americans,” Williams wrote. “It would say that race doesn’t matter in American life, which is simply untrue, and would cement the highly inequitable status quo.”
Echoing similar discontent, Park wrote that striking down race-conscious admissions would be a setback in Harvard’s trajectory towards a more inclusive campus.
“Harvard and other schools must not be blocked from pathways to building a more diverse campus and to equipping its students to confront the deep challenges of our society's growing inequity and strife,” Park wrote.
Lopez-Lopez and Mendoza wrote that a ruling in favor of SFFA would be detrimental to Latinx representation in higher education.
“It would be an incredible blow to holistic admissions practices across the country that are crucial in supporting underrepresented students in gaining admission into schools that have historically denied us opportunities and increasingly need our voices and perspectives,” Fuerza Latina’s statement reads.
Shin encouraged students to come together at Harvard and across the country to work toward a “fair, just direction” for future students.
“Race in America is hard. And so the only way to do it is to do it together,” Shin said.
—Staff writer Leah J. Teichholtz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @LeahTeichholtz.
—Staff writer Monique I. Vobecky can be reached at email@example.com.