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Affirmative Action decision sets America back decades

The Supreme Court’s decision to effectively end affirmative action will undoubtedly make it more difficult for diversity to shine through at well-renowned universities: They voted 6-3 in the University of North Carolina case and 6-2 in the Harvard case.

This ruling sets America back from decades worth of progress in diversifying college campuses: According to the Department of Education, 37 percent of Black people in the 18-to-24 age range were enrolled in college, and Hispanics made up 33 percent of college students in that age range. In California, where the state affirmative action ban has been in place since 1998, Hispanic students at UCLA and California made up just 21.5 percent of the 2020 freshman class, 29 percentage points below the college-eligible Hispanic population.

In the ruling, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. wrote that “a benefit to a student who overcame racial discrimination, for example, must be tied to that student’s courage and determination. Or a benefit to a student whose heritage or culture motivated him or her to assume a leadership role or attain a particular goal must be tied to that student’s unique ability to contribute to the university. In other words, the student must be treated based on his or her experiences as an individual — not based on race.”

This decision is meant to put parameters around how students discuss any disadvantages they’ve faced in their college applications. But for students of color, it’s almost impossible to discuss the disadvantages one has faced without tying it back to race.

Through housing discrimination, lack of generational wealth, and navigating a world in which the minority body isn’t as valued as white counterparts, the minority experience is embedded in a person from birth.

Race is a significant part of a person’s identity. Affirmative action allowed minority students to receive more of a fair shot of being admitted into college. It allowed colleges to be intentional on diversifying its campuses. It ensures that underrepresented students are given an opportunity. Focusing solely on one’s test scores and GPA ignores the context of the individual.

Even more alarming, standardized tests inherently disadvantage Black and brown individuals because they lack access to test prep, attend lower-performing schools, and often aren’t given the opportunity to take advanced coursework to better prepare them for the exams.

Take me, for example. I was a solid student at Westinghouse College Prep. It’s a reputable school, but I wasn’t at the top of my class and suffered from test anxiety, so my SAT scores didn’t reflect my ability.

I transferred to Westinghouse during my sophomore year to have access to the advanced placement courses and extracurriculars that universities look for — not every student is afforded the luxury of being able to transfer. In doing so, I struggled to keep up during my sophomore year — which was an anchor to my GPA.  I didn’t shy away from my identity and experiences throughout the college application process. My Chicago Scholars counselor, Monique Moore, encouraged me to talk about my sophomore year, which saw my grades fall from 3.8 my freshman year to much lower, and to not run from that year.

I probably wouldn’t have been admitted to Knox College if it wasn’t for the school looking at every part of my identity, not just my GPA and test scores. Changing the paradigm would have significantly hurt my chances. I didn’t hide the fact that I would be a first-generation college student coming from a single-parent family.

“The admissions rubrics they have constructed now recognize that an individual’s ‘merit’ — his ability to succeed in an institute of higher learning and ultimately contribute something to our society — cannot be fully determined without understanding that individual in full,” Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson said after the ruling.

The ban prevented diversity from occurring at private institutions, which hurts the college process for every student involved.We learn from those who come from different backgrounds. Being exposed to different people from different cultures is paramount to your growth as a student and person.

Knox was a very diverse school: The opportunities to learn about my friends and classmates culture’s was eye-opening. I have never traveled outside of the United States, so hearing about one’s culture and attending dance performances during the college’s International Week was beneficial and enriching to my educational experience.

That experience wouldn’t have been possible without race being part of the calculus in the decision process. The ruling won’t end Affirmative Action, but it will make diversity at colleges and universities tougher to achieve.