Supreme Court Should Reaffirm Diversity as Compelling Interest, Uphold Holistic College Admissions

IDRA Signs onto Amicus Brief Spotlighting Student Voices Urging the Court Not to Censor their Racial and Ethnic Identity in College Applications
(August 4, 2022) To affirm the value of diversity in education and college access for all students, IDRA this week signed on to an amicus brief in two cases before the U.S. Supreme Court, Students for Fair Admissions, Inc. v. President & Fellows of Harvard College (No. 19-2005) and Students for Fair Admissions, Inc. v. University of North Carolina (No. 21-2263). Filed on August 1 and coordinated by the Education Civil Rights Alliance (ECRA), the friend-of-the court brief highlights the importance of ensuring that colleges can consider the many characteristics and experiences that shape a student’s college application, including their racial and ethnic background.

College admissions officers must be able to measure students by the diverse experiences and identities that contribute to their unique talents and abilities, said Celina Moreno, J.D., IDRA President and CEO. IDRA and our partners support longstanding legal precedent affirming the value of diversity for all students and are especially proud to lift up the perspectives of college students in their own words.

Due to persistent inequalities in K-12 education, many students of color – and Black students in particular – confront barriers to educational opportunity despite their talent and hard work. Holistic admissions processes that account for these barriers by allowing consideration of a student’s racial and ethnic background are critical to ensure that all students have a fair opportunity to access college.

But small factions are trying to upend holistic admissions and other policies that successfully create pathways to college for students of color. The plaintiff, Students for Fair Admissions, Inc., asked the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn its 2003 ruling in Grutter v. Bolinger. Grutter reaffirmed a 1978 case (Regents of the University of California v. Bakke) establishing diversity in the classroom as a compelling state interest under the U.S. Constitution and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, holding that colleges could consider race in their admissions policies so long as their affirmative action programs were narrowly tailored to increase student diversity. The plaintiffs here argued that Harvard and the University of North Carolina (UNC) discriminate against Asian American students in their admissions process, despite clear evidence to the contrary.

As demonstrated in the amicus brief: In order to properly assess the qualities linked to success in college and as an adult – including maturity, resilience, intellectual curiosity, honesty and motivation – colleges must be able to consider each candidate’s full identity and the context for their achievements, including as a student of color or as an ethnic or religious minority.

The brief highlights the testimony of current and former Harvard and UNC students, including Sally Chen, a Harvard senior at the time of her testimony: “Being Chinese American and facing cultural-linguistic barriers ‘was really fundamental to explaining who I am’ and [I] did not ‘think there was any way I could authentically get across my motivations, my story, my inspirations, my academic kind of curiosities without really explaining and talking about the significance of how I grew up.’”

Education civil rights groups argued the following in the brief: 

  • Secondary education is deeply segregated. Data show that students of color are more likely to attend underfunded and high-poverty schools with less effective instruction and reduced access to advanced coursework, extracurricular activities and standardized testing preparation for students of color. 

  • Race and ethnicity still predict student outcomes, even for students of color who have greater access to educational resources in better-resourced schools. 

  • To assess merit and identify the most competitive candidates, colleges need the ability to consider the racial and ethnic identity of students and their experiences related to their identity. 

  • Eliminating race-conscious admissions would preclude talented and qualified students from successfully contextualizing the merit and experiences they possess because of their racial or ethnic identity and impede their college access.

Both cases are set to be heard on October 31, 2022, before the U.S. Supreme Court, with decisions pending next summer. 
IDRA is an independent, non-profit organization. Our mission is to achieve equal educational opportunity for every child through strong public schools that prepare all students to access and succeed in college.