Education experts discussed paths forward for colleges and students in the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s decision effectively striking down affirmative action during a webinar hosted by the Harvard Graduate School of Education Wednesday.
The panel, moderated by HGSE senior lecturer Francesca B. Purcell, focused on how students of color will approach college applications differently following the Court’s ruling and how the decision will impact existing inequities in the admissions process. Panelists included Boston University associate professor Anthony A. Jack, HGSE senior lecturer Mandy Savitz-Romer, and education nonprofit leader Eric Waldo.
The Supreme Court ruled in June that race-based affirmative action in higher education is unconstitutional under the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause. In the months since, universities have scrambled to update their admissions policies to comply with the decision while still maintaining their commitments to equality and diversity.
Speakers at the event said with colleges unable to explicitly consider race in their admissions processes, students will likely turn to personal statements and supplemental essays to discuss their racial background and experiences — which the Court’s decision noted universities may still consider.
Jack, who is also the current faculty director of the Newbury Center, said he believes students of color will now feel increased pressure to “pimp out their poverty” and “tell stereotypical stories of their racial identity.”
“We’re putting not only additional responsibility on an overtaxed K-12 system — now, we’re also asking students to take on some emotional burden of having to play race as if it’s not their life but a character or a scene from a production,” Jack said.
According to speakers at the webinar, this is just one of many changes to the landscape of college admissions following the Supreme Court decision.
Savitz-Romer pointed to career and college admissions counseling as an increasingly critical resource for students — but one that is not accessible to all.
“There are many young people, more Black and brown students, who attend schools with no counselors,” Savitz-Romer said. “The counselors in those schools often don’t have time for professional development and learning. They have higher case loads. They spend more time doing non-counseling tasks. There are systemic issues.”
Savitz-Romer said the Supreme Court decision sent a discouraging message to students of color, adding that educators will face additional difficulty convincing students of all backgrounds that applying to college is worthwhile.
“We spent so much time trying to help minoritized youth understand that college is for them, that they stand to benefit greatly, and so I think that anything that sends up confusion is a challenge,” she added.
Waldo, the president and CEO of the District of Columbia College Access Program, placed the responsibility of ensuring a diverse student body on colleges’ shoulders, denying the premise that the Court’s decision tied universities’ hands.
“Tomorrow, Harvard could admit an entire class of Pell-only eligible students who — again, we’re not considering race, we’ll just do 100 percent Pell — and they’re all going to meet those academic requirements,” Waldo said.
In an interview prior to the event, Waldo said universities do not take this step because it would “violate our norms” regarding “power and prestige and who we give access to.”
Jack said colleges will need to do more to reach students, counselors, and families affected by the decision and take a different approach to communicating about its impact to ensure equal access to higher education for students of color.
“I want colleges to begin to answer questions,” Jack said. “I just feel that it needs to be greater lines of communication — especially now — with unfiltered, honest information.”
Correction: October 19, 2023
A previous versino of this article misquoted Mandy Savitz-Romer as referencing “minorities.” In fact, she referenced “minoritized youth.”