OPINION: Affirmative action prioritizes diversity and inclusivity on college campuses

As the Supreme Court of the United States’s conservative majority considers abolishing affirmative action in 2022, students are at risk of being confined to an undiverse and a non-inclusive environment. Affirmative action is a set of policies that aims to increase the opportunities provided to underrepresented members of society. Race-conscious postsecondary admissions has helped transform campus diversity for many colleges, yet overturning the process will eliminate a strong practice that ties communities together.

Prioritizing diversity is vital for college campuses. According to the Pew Research Center, as of 2022, nine states have banned affirmative action, with other states reversing or failing to pass the measures, Texas in 2003 and Colorado in 2008, respectively. Many schools outline in their mission statements a commitment to diversity, but with many states steadily advancing toward eliminating race-conscious admissions, student development is at risk.

Affirmative action is necessary to build character and skills for students. Students can meaningfully contribute to their college communities and prepare for a multiracial democracy. Inclusion enables diversity to thrive, and consistent contributions and a wide range of perspectives from students can emphasize inclusivity. A diverse campus encourages critical thinking and effective communication with people from different backgrounds, helping to strengthen bonds and understanding.

Overturning affirmative action will cause setbacks for the college system. In 1996, Proposition 209 was passed by California voters, stating public schools and universities could not use race as a factor in admissions. Following this, the University of California campuses saw significant decreases in admission by race and ethnicity. The University of California, Los Angeles reported a 50% drop in African-American and Latino students.

The UC system has long struggled with restrategizing and redesigning new approaches to ensuring student diversity and educational equality. Ending affirmative action requires extensive efforts in valuable time and resources to implement race-neutral alternatives. A colorblind framework to consider applicants does not guarantee racial diversity, and can discourage students of color from submitting an application.

In order for minority groups to perform well in higher education, expanding opportunities and services can help break barriers obstructing academic success. The National Bureau of Economic Research reported that 43% of white students admitted at Harvard University were recruited athletes, legacy students, children of faculty and staff or on the dean’s interest list. Preferential treatment into prestigious institutions can harm groups on the bases of wealth, race and access.

For numerous minority groups and low-income families, access to resources could be unavailable or troublesome compared to affluent families. To secure a level playing field for underrepresented groups, implementing outreach programs, financial aid and scholarships can help students succeed.

There are no complete replacements for affirmative action. If affirmative action is to be ruled unconstitutional, institutions of higher education must be prepared to craft a workable system that can ensure students are represented in a diverse student body.