United States Supreme Court Outlaws Affirmative Action – Opportunities for Change

On June 29, 2023, The United States Supreme Court marked the beginning of a new era of educational and corporate diversity. The decision to strike down race-based admissions programs at Harvard and the University of North Carolina (UNC) overturned decades of precedents allowing for affirmative-action programs. Although this decision will have clear implications for the diversity pipeline, it presents a meaningful opportunity for educational institutions and companies to develop new strategies for change. 

If you wish to learn more about the case, a brief summary and additional resources are available at the bottom of this article.

How can colleges move forward?

Affirmative action is a means to create a more equal society by acknowledging the systematic disadvantages of racialized groups. Although this ruling has limited the consideration of race in higher education admissions processes, educational institutions’ fight for and commitment to diversity does not need to end. Colleges and Universities must be proactive in widening educational equity, accessibility, and opportunity. There are many strategies that college admissions teams can use to continue providing opportunities for members of underserved communities. Some of these strategies include: 

  • Eliminating legacy admissions to open up spots to a broader array of students
  • Expanding engagement with underserved communities
  • Developing initiatives to strengthen on-campus racial climate 
  • Putting an emphasis on personal statements and encouraging applicants to write about how they’ve overcome adversity
  • Comparing students against district averages rather than national averages when looking at GPAs and SATs
  • Re-considering SATs as an admissions criteria, considering the structural advantage wealthy students have here

How can companies move forward?

Although The Supreme Court’s decision does not have any direct effect on workplace laws, it will likely have ripple effects on corporate diversity. This decision highlights how diversity efforts are more important than ever. Companies with effective cultures and DEI practices will continue to see returns, and rather than viewing these new restraints as a regression of diversity efforts, we must together reaffirm our commitment to diversity and overcome these challenges. Some steps that companies can take to continue to strengthen diversity efforts and support historically marginalized applicants include:

  • Partnering with others in your industry to drive outreach at historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) 
  • Re-thinking your recruitment strategy and where you recruit top talent (e.g., instead of recruiting exclusively from ivy league schools, redirect your focus on the top 10% of students from state schools)
  • Re-think and re-vamp your recruiting & hiring policies – this is more important than ever. For example:
    • Train, coach and QC interviewees to avoid “network bias” as a hiring tactic
    • Focus on applicants’ intrinsic abilities over markers of status
    • Consider integrating case studies or problem-solving instead of relying primarily on resumes

The Supreme Court’s decision to end race-concious admissions will likely change how we approach diversity in a number of ways. Building an effective DEI strategy is more important than ever in light of these recent changes and It’s time to re-examine diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts. Companies must be proactive in finding a partner to develop and execute a plan for improvement. Learn more here about how an effective DEI strategy can support strategies for change here. For specific guidance, resources, and tools, book a demo with Diversio to learn more about how we can help.

Additional information regarding the Supreme Court decision

On June 29, 2023, The United States Supreme Court struck down admissions programs at Harvard and the University of North Carolina (UNC) that used race to determine college admissions decisions.

The question presented is whether the admissions systems used by Harvard College and UNC (two highly regarded universities known for their highly selective admissions programs) are lawful under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The Students for Fair Admissions (SFFA), the petitioner of each case and a nonprofit organization whose stated purpose is “to defend human and civil rights secured by law, including the right of individuals to equal protection under the law.” SFFA argues that their race-based admissions programs violate, respectively, Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. 

Proposed by Congress and ratified by the States in the wake of the Civil War, the Fourteenth Amendment provides that no State shall “deny to any person . . . the equal protection of the laws.” Proponents of the Equal Protection Clause described its “foundation[al] principle” as “not permit[ing] any distinctions of law based on race or color.” They maintained that any “law which operates upon one man” should “operate equally upon all.” Accordingly, as this Court’s early decisions interpreting the Equal Protection Clause explained, the Fourteenth Amendment guaranteed “that the law in the States shall be the same for the black as for the white; that all persons, whether colored or white, shall stand equal before the laws of the States.”

Title VI states that “no person in the United States shall, on the grounds of race, color, or national origin, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”

The Supreme Court has ruled in favor of SFFA; the court holds that Harvard’s and UNC’s admissions programs violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, therefore also violating Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The summary above has been dramatically condensed from the legal documentation released by the United States Supreme Court. This court decision is multifaceted and cites several historic court cases. If you wish to know more details regarding this case, you can read the full decision via The Washington Post here.

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