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The Supreme Court Killed Campus Diversity. What Now?

By Emily N. Dial
By Joseph W. Hernandez, Crimson Opinion Writer
Joseph W. Hernandez ’25, a Crimson Editorial editor, is a Government concentrator in Adams House.

Harvard as we know it has come to an end. As each class is admitted without affirmative action in place, the Harvard that I applied to will slowly wither away, dying the day that the Class of 2027 graduates.

After all, they will likely be remembered as the last diverse class to attend Harvard.

As a result of the Supreme Court’s decision striking down affirmative action, race can now only be considered in college admissions indirectly, such as when an applicant details specific experiences of racial discrimination in their admissions essays. As colleges nationwide struggle to make sense of their now-shattered admissions systems, one question looms over them: What can they do to pick up the pieces?

Both Students for Fair Admissions — which prevailed in the case — and a concurring member of the decision’s majority suggested that universities like Harvard could maintain diversity by adjusting their admissions policies to consider an applicant’s socioeconomic status. Such an approach, which is long overdue, may well be universities’ best option in a post-affirmative action world — it could allow colleges to account for the United States’ educational inequality, stratified by race and socioeconomic status.

Even still, it is clear that educational disparities cannot and should not be reduced to a purely socioeconomic issue. As of 2019, the average primarily white school district — that is, in which over 75 percent of students are white — received $2,226 more in overall funding than the average school primarily attended by students of color, according to public education nonprofit EdBuild. Worse yet, even only including districts with poverty rates over 20 percent, primarily white school districts still received an average of $1,487 more per student than their primarily non-white counterparts.

Though the Supreme Court may try, there’s no denying not only the prevalence of racism in the classroom but also its pronounced effects on students’ mental health, ability to engage in the classroom, and social isolation. Similarly, students of color are far more likely to be suspended for the same behavior as their white peers, starting as early as early as preschool.

Unsurprisingly, the end result is an education system where equally intelligent students of color routinely perform worse on standardized tests and receive worse grades.

Without affirmative action, these classroom inequalities will reign over admissions, unable to be accounted for unless a student treats their personal statement and supplemental essays as a laundry list of their experiences with racism.

The painful truth is, the short-lived era of diversity on the college campus is about to draw to a close. Given the omnipresence of racism in the American education system, colleges simply can’t put a student’s accomplishments in proper context without considering race in admissions. As a result, race-blind admissions will inherently favor white students.

We’ve already seen this disaster play out before. When California outlawed affirmative action policies in its public universities in 1996, its flagship colleges saw an immediate dropoff in on-campus diversity. After well over twenty years of University of California-led efforts to pursue diversity with affirmative action outlawed, students of color remain drastically underrepresented.

While the UC schools reached a peak of 37 percent of students belonging to underrepresented backgrounds in 2016, this was still woefully inadequate given that 56 percent of graduating high school students in California came from these backgrounds. And it’s not as if students of color weren’t pursuing higher education: While they are underrepresented at the more prestigious UC schools, Black and Latine students are overrepresented at the less prestigious California State University schools, which offer less financial aid, fewer job opportunities, and lower graduation rates.

Without affirmative action, we can expect the exact same outcome nationwide. Unable to consider a student’s race, admissions offices will be forced to compare students’ resumes without the full context of the privilege and inequality that informed them. With today’s decision, the Supreme Court’s conservative justices have crafted a college admissions landscape effectively stacked against students of color.

While there will still be students of color who manage to win the upward battle that is Harvard admissions, it’s clear that the days of a diverse Harvard are coming to a close. SFFA’s lawyers themselves have conceded that the number of Black students attending Harvard would decrease if affirmative action was overturned, though Harvard could gain socioeconomic diversity by scrapping legacy preferences and favoring low-income applicants. But this excuse rings hollow, as we easily could have had both racial and socioeconomic diversity.

So today, I grieve the loss of the deeply flawed college that I had come to know and love; this death of diversity is not the change Harvard needed.

Today, I grieve the loss of the Harvard that accepted low-income students of color like me; I was the first student from my high school to attend Harvard, and today, I fear I may be the last.

Most of all, today I grieve the loss of the Harvard that tore me down, telling me that I did not belong time and time again, only for its communities of color to build me back up, reminding me that low-income brown kids deserve college, too. Today, the Supreme Court has sent an abundantly clear message: College is for the privileged.

Joseph W. Hernandez ’25, a Crimson Editorial editor, is a Government concentrator in Adams House.

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