FOCUS: With the possibility of affirmative action’s abolition, students and staff reevaluate the pivotal role it has played in the college admissions process

On Oct. 31, 2022, the United States Supreme Court heard arguments for a case that will determine the future of college applications. Consisting of two lawsuits, the Students for Free Admissions (SFFA) v. Presidents and Fellows of Harvard College, and SFFA v. University of North Carolina, the case challenges the concept of affirmative action. SFFA argued that UNC’s use of affirmative action violates the Fourteenth Amendment and that Harvard’s use of affirmative action is against Title IV of the Civil Rights Act. If the court abolishes the practice,
universities would not consider applicants’ races, which could be detrimental to minorities.

Affirmative action was first introduced in the 1960s, with John F. Kennedy’s Executive Order 10925 being the first to coin the term. It was designed to combat racial discrimination within government employment. With the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the practice expanded to businesses nationwide, with higher education institutions using the practice to review college applications.

SCHS College and Career Resource Technician Anthony Butler believes the practice is beneficial towards racial equality.

“It (affirmative action) gives the admissions a chance to look beyond just one particular income bracket, which they feel is going to be the best population for their school, because of how much they make,” Butler said. “Some of those kids may not even be the best fit for the school.”

Despite the many legal challenges against it, some feel affirmative action has contributed to a racially equitable environment. Senior Bell Muthukumaran believes that the concept has helped underprivileged students obtain a higher education.

“I think it’s a great opportunity to help underprivileged students get an equal education because some of them might be from underprivileged backgrounds,” Muthukumaran said. “It’s not fair if they don’t get access to the same amount of education just because they don’t have the same amount of money.”

One central belief among challengers is that the practice itself is unconstitutional.

Grutter v. Bollinger, in particular, was a landmark Supreme Court case that sought to determine whether the Michigan Law School’s use of racial preferences for minorities was against the Fourteenth Amendment. The court ruled that race could be considered so long as other factors are evaluated on an individual basis. Butler agrees with SFFA’s reasoning for the lawsuit.

“As long as race is not considered as the sole point,” Butler said. “They’re not just letting someone in because they’re this race or because they’re that race… Affirmative action, I believe, was said to help the process of admissions, not to take over and be the new standard.”

With the Supreme Court inching toward a decision with SFFA v. Harvard, the future of many incoming college applicants may be at stake. The Black Lives Matter movement in recent years has made a strong push for more equitable spaces, and affirmative action is seen as a byproduct of racial equity. Some believe that affirmative action gives students opportunities they might not have had before.

ASL teacher Talia Orsetti-Ng sees the removal of the practice as detrimental to minorities.

“I think if it was entirely removed, that could be very dangerous because we might start receding back into old ways,” Orsetti-Ng said. “ People would not have any parameters about being biased, right? So they could easily go back to being biased. I think that the country is in a very injured place right now in terms of racial struggles, and I think that just removing the parameters altogether can cause a lot of disruption.”

Inevitably, the decision is up to the Supreme Court in SFFA v. Harvard. As the case progresses, many wonder about the potential ramifications against minorities and underprivileged communities.

“If affirmative action did get abolished, you’d also have to make sure that those communities get the resources that they need, so they can also succeed,” senior Aliya Kabir said.