Supreme Court rules on affirmative action

Ruling could affect first-generation Hockaday students


Graphic by Meera Thamaran

Caroline Bush

This term, the Supreme Court was presented with two cases regarding affirmative action and race-conscious college admissions. Both cases were filed by Students for Fair Admissions (SFFA), one from Harvard and one from the University of North Carolina. The results of these cases could greatly affect future college applicants.

The SFFA, made up mostly of Asian Americans, believes race should not play a part in admissions since affirmative action lowers the proportion of Asian Americans in universities to make space for more underrepresented minorities.

The current Supreme Court has a six to three conservative majority, already giving way to the reversal of many previously set precedents. With the new term well underway and the aftermath of the overturning of Roe vs. Wade, all eyes are on the court as it begins to rule on controversial cases.

According to the Carnegie Mellon University’s student newspaper, the Tartan, all six conservative justices expressed doubt about allowing race to play a part in admissions. This doubt suggests the court might be leaning toward overturning the precedent and ruling affirmative action unconstitutional.

The Supreme Court’s decision is expected to take longer than average and will most likely come out in June. Conservative justices implied that it might be time to stop considering race in college decisions, and while the three liberal justices are firmly against this decision, swaying the majority opinion is unlikely.

Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito, both in the conservative majority, were concerned about considering diversity and underrepresented minorities in admissions as “they felt the terms had little concrete definition,” according to the Tartan. 

Liberal justices Sonia Sotomayor and Ketanji Brown Jackson argued race is a key factor in shaping and revealing information about a students’ previous experiences and educational background. Brown Jackson said if admissions could consider things like parental, veteran or disabled status, race also should be considered.

Senior Sarah Zhou, president of the First-Gen Student Union, said that affirmative action shapes a lot of what her club’s mission surrounds. First-Gen Student Union works to provide resources to students who might not have that support from parents who do not understand the American admissions process.

Zhou said she thinks it is important race does play a factor in admissions because different racial groups have different experiences in America. She believes it is important for colleges to consider factors such as race, gender and socioeconomic status because not everyone grew up with the same resources or opportunities.

“A lot of what we focus on is understanding that not everyone has the same time or resources,” Zhou said. “I think affirmative action sort of does that – it’s not trying to pull other people down, but rather it’s trying to get everyone onto an even playing field because not everyone starts in the same place.”

The debate about affirmative action applies mostly to more prestigious universities since the average acceptance rate for American universities is 68%, according to U.S. News & World Report, meaning most schools do not have to worry about creating a diverse student body.

Less distinguished universities tend to have racial statistics that reflect the general population, while schools like Yale and Carnegie Mellon have disproportionate student body makeups when it comes to race.

If the Supreme Court were to end up overturning the precedent and ruling affirmative action as unconstitutional, Zhou said this could make it much more difficult for first-generation students who are applying for college.

“Many first-gen students are students of color or students from another underrepresented minority, so I think they would have a more difficult time demonstrating that throughout the college admissions process if it no longer considers factors like race in their application,” Zhou said.

College counselor Elizabeth Jones said in an email that college counseling strives to support all students equally in their college process.

“We believe that higher education should be accessible to every student, and this belief guides the work we do at Hockaday,” Jones wrote.