On June 29, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled against a long-standing college admissions practice: affirmative action. For many, the conservative court's decision wasn't a surprise. But the fallout from the ruling will be felt for years to come. On this episode of “Our Body Politic,” guest host Karen Grigsby Bates, founding member of NPR’s “Code Switch” team, is joined by experts and advocates to break down the history of affirmative action, what the recent decision means and who it’s impacting. Plus we hear the voices and stories of those most affected by the ruling: students.
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This is Our Body Politic. I'm guest host Karen Grigsby Bates, founding member of NPR's Code Switch team sitting in for Farai Chideya. On June 29th, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled against a long standing college admissions practice: affirmative action. For many, the conservative court's decision wasn't a surprise, but the fallout from the ruling will be felt for years to come. On our show, we're breaking down what the decision means and who it's directly impacting. But first, we look at how and why affirmative action was created and what its future might be. I'm joined by Shirley Wilcher, the executive director of the American Association for Access, Equity and Diversity, formerly known as the American Association for Affirmative Action. Welcome to the show, Shirley.
Shirley Wilcher [00:01:39] Thank you. Happy to be here.
Karen Grigsby Bates [00:01:42] We're happy to have you here. Shirley, the Supreme Court's ruling this summer struck down affirmative action programs at Harvard and at the University of North Carolina. This comes after nearly 60 years of affirmative action being passed and contested time and time again. Help us break down the cases that led to this particular ruling.
Shirley Wilcher [00:02:05] Okay. The concept of affirmative action in higher education began with the regents of the University of California versus Bakke case in 1978. Alan Bakke, who in his thirties applied to medical school at UC Davis and was rejected. And he alleged that he was rejected on the basis of race. At the time, UC Davis had set aside 16 slots out of 100 for, let's say, minority students because of the underrepresentation of students of color. When the case reached the Supreme Court, there were actually five opinions, but the one that prevailed was the one by Justice Powell. He did not accept the notion that affirmative action, as we call it, was acceptable as a remedy for past discrimination. But he did say that diversity under the Constitution is a compelling interest. And so actually, in higher ed, while the media calls it affirmative action, the courts call it diversity. The next case later on was that Grutter versus Bollinger case in 2003, and Gratz versus Bollinger, which was the companion case. Gratz was the undergraduate case. And what Gratz did was to actually apply points to different factors, including race. What the law school did was to take a more holistic approach looking at the entire individual, and race was one of the factors. The Supreme Court said, you shall not use the point system. They really frowned upon what even begins to appear as a quota. But the law school case again was more general. Again, looking at the entire individual and race was one factor, and that's what the Supreme Court liked. This holistic approach is what colleges and universities have done since then. One other thing that in that decision, Sandra Day O'Connor, who wrote for the majority also I said aspirationally, that essentially in 25 years we won't need it. But going forward, there were actually another case, but there were two iterations of it. And this is Abigail Fisher versus University of Texas. Interestingly enough, the same individual in the Fisher case was behind the most recent case student for fair admissions, Edward Blum. In the Texas case, he found a white female and she alleged with her father's assistance and was in bloom, that she was excluded because of her race. And this case went up to the Supreme Court. Thankfully, at that time, it did uphold the notion that diversity is a compelling interest under the Constitution, which was the most important thing. The question, though, is. As was the program at U.T., narrowly tailored. They don't allow for like broad based racial considerations. It went back down. But the court Fifth Circuit, also decided that the way it had fashioned its program was consistent with the Constitution. The last case is Students for Fair Admissions versus Harvard and the University of North Carolina.
Karen Grigsby Bates [00:05:31] Was there something different about the argument in these recent cases, or was this ruling by the court simply the result of the makeup of the court its a much more conservative court now. The numbers run in conservatives favors. And so is this the reason?
Shirley Wilcher [00:05:50] Well, if you look at the analysis of the facts by the district courts, one of whom is a Black woman, by the way, Loretta Biggs
Karen Grigsby Bates [00:06:00] Give her a shout out.
Shirley Wilcher [00:06:01] Shout out. The analysis was done to be consistent with the previous decisions. And as people have said, and I don't think it's just rhetoric. This is 45 years of barking. The only thing I can find that's different is the composition of the court. The polls say the court is just more people think it's political, but that's the only conclusion I can reach.
Karen Grigsby Bates [00:06:25] Its a conclusion a lot of people have reached. How are you hearing or how do you expect institutions of higher education to react to this ruling? Are you hearing from colleagues who are in colleges and universities now? And if you are, what are they saying?
Shirley Wilcher [00:06:42] You know, the first thing is to try to understand the decision, because it's interesting that Justice Roberts, who wrote for the court, argued that this compelling interest of diversity is no longer good law. Again, he's overruling 45 years of precedent going back to back. And I should add, I was an intern with the Legal Defense Fund in 78 when Bakke came down. So I've seen them all. But he changed the view of how you analyze these cases and said that race based admissions programs operate as a stereotype that is a very consistently conservative view and that promoting the robust marketplace of ideas is no longer measurable. How do you measure that numerically? And if you do know, you get in trouble with coming up with quotas? And then he talked about the 25 years that Sandra Day O'Connor talked about her aspiration, that in 25 years after Grutter in 2003, we would no longer need affirmative action. He says that race based admissions programs should have a logical endpoint, and he's decided that this is the endpoint.
Karen Grigsby Bates [00:08:02] We heard actually a version of that when Vice President Pence said it's all been fixed. And so we don't need to think going forward about race entering into the decision to admit to institutions of higher education. And then he followed by saying, you know, I know something about this because I have three daughters who have been through college. And so race isn't a problem anymore. Just sort of declared race is not a problem anymore. I'm wondering if this ruling is going to have an immediate effect on higher education. I mean, what about the incoming students who are coming in this fall? Are they going to be affected by this at all?
Shirley Wilcher [00:08:41] I don't think the incoming students will be affected because they've already… the colleges have already, you know, made their decisions. And I did hear Vice President Pence, he invoked O'Connor's 25 years. I am reminded because I was in Professor Derek Bell's constitutional law class at Harvard. He often used the term this far and no further. And I Googled that. And that comes out of the Bible: Jobe. In Jobe, they're talking about the power of the Almighty in this case. I think he was talking about the powers that be have decided we have gone far enough. And what's interesting is, Roberts says college admissions are a zero sum and a benefit provided to some applicants, but not to others, necessarily advantages the former at the expense of the latter.
Karen Grigsby Bates [00:09:35] And he's basically voicing from the high bench this misconception I think that has gone on for a long time where a number of white students have said, oh, the reason I didn't get in is because some Black kid took my place. It's only because of that, you know, they're only thinking about race.
Shirley Wilcher [00:09:56] And they're never thinking about the legacies, the other factors that benefit whites and other advantaged individuals. It's contributing 10 million to get you a slot at Harvard. It's being the child or grandchild of an alum. There is a wonderful article about former President George Bush and how he was able to get into Yale and into Harvard Business.
Karen Grigsby Bates [00:10:22] Even with the gentleman’s C.
Shirley Wilcher [00:10:24] See, even with a gentleman’s C, And when they talk about, you know, well, we don't want you to be stereotyped or stigmatized, they don't seem to feel any pain or stigma. You know, certainly President Bush didn't seem to feel that way. And others who have benefited don't seem to feel the angst that they expect students of color to feel. I don't remember feeling guilty about being accepted. I remember having an opportunity and moving forward with it. So why do they ascribe that to us and feel that they have to protect us from these stereotypes? To me, they're racist. I reject them and I keep going, and I think a lot of others have. So why is Roberts concerned about this feeling of being stereotyped? But it's also ironic, of course, when he talks about the zero sum game, he's talking about students, Asian-Americans and the whites, who would constitute the majority of the class. You know, if you accept one Black student that's taking away from those who have been the majority historically, and then I always argued this case should never have been brought because the Asian-American students were competing with the whites. They were not competing with the handful of African American, Latino, Native American students. That was not the competition. It was the people who get in because they're on a rowing team. Or, again, their parents were children of faculty. In the case, if you take a look at Justice Sotomayor's stinging dissent, she talks about how those student the athletes, the legacy students, this group, while they were 5% of the applicants, they were 30% of the admits. How is that not a concern? But the only thing they were worried about was race. You asked a question about what colleges are doing. I think they're figuring it out. They've been talking about it for some time. I'm on the board of trustees of one of those Seven Sisters. And of course, we are all trying to decide what to do. There are other options that have always been considered as not a replacement for race conscious admissions. That is socioeconomic status, geography, being, you know, the first generation. There are a number of what they would call race neutral alternatives. And colleges will have to figure that out. But the one thing that the court did say was that students can include their experiences in their essays and if experiences include being African American, you're okay to say that. The question is, what do colleges do with that? How do you count them? How do you consider that? Because, you know, the right wing will be watching.
Karen Grigsby Bates [00:13:33] And in fact, Stephen Miller, who was one of former President Trump's sort of right hands in terms of dictating all kinds of draconian policies while he was in government, released something on social media saying basically people in these colleges who were not thrilled with what the court has just decided, you have to pay attention to this and you have to do it. It's against the law. If you don't, we're going to be keeping very close watch and there will be consequences. So he's essentially threatening administrators at colleges and universities if they did anything that seemed to him to be approaching, considering something that might even tangentially relate to race. Let me ask you this. Affirmative action has essentially been gutted right now by the court. Is this the beginning of a slippery slope? Like, are there other potential negative consequences that overturning affirmative action might be felt down the road?
Shirley Wilcher [00:14:41] Well, let me say this. And our lawyers remind us this is only about admissions. This is not about employment. This is not about contracting. Both of which have their own body of law. The employment cases come out of, you know, another history going back to John Kennedy, who issued the first executive order requiring affirmative action in 1961. And then President Johnson followed up with his executive order in 65. And I might add, during the Clinton administration, it was my job to enforce that order at the Department of Labor. Companies have to be reminded everything is not gone. All the civil rights laws that were passed by Congress are still there. The question is what will happen to DENI programs at companies and even at colleges as they involve employment outreach, finding new faculty, finding new staff. You know, I'm not going to predict that some will walk away from this because I'm looking at the future and our demographics. By 2044, more than half of all Americans will be Black, Hispanic and Asian. And in fact, in our K-12 institutions, a little bit more than half of students now are Black, Latino and Asian. That demographic shift is happening. Whether the court likes it or not. And we have to deal with that.
Karen Grigsby Bates [00:16:12] Let's go back to the history of affirmative action for a minute, because you talked about these various measures that were enacted or enforced by John Kennedy, by Lyndon Johnson, by Bill Clinton. Those were all Democratic presidents. But in 1969, then President Richard Nixon also extended affirmative action to include federal agencies, which comes under the egis of what you were talking about, the things that you were saying you were hired to enforce under the Clinton administration, that there was this equality of opportunity for minority owned businesses. That seemed to have been a bipartisan consensus that this kind of diversity was good for America. Now, not so much. So why do you think this issue has become so deeply polarizing?
Shirley Wilcher [00:17:07] Well, first of all, let me say I knew Arthur Fletcher.
Karen Grigsby Bates [00:17:10] Tell us who Arthur Fletcher is.
Shirley Wilcher [00:17:12] Art Fletcher is the father of affirmative action. And yes, he was a Republican. And so historically, affirmative action has been a bipartisan issue. But I was also in town working for the Women's Law Center when Ronald Reagan was elected president. And I went to Capitol Hill in the 80s. I'm aging myself.
Karen Grigsby Bates [00:17:36] You have company here.
Shirley Wilcher [00:17:40] During that time, the attorney general, Edwin Meese, tried to do away with executive order 11 to 46 or to just weaken it. And, of course, we started a whole campaign to save affirmative action. It was 1985. And you know, who was the chair of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission around that time?
Karen Grigsby Bates [00:18:00] Let me guess. He now sits on the Supreme Court. This would be Justice Clarence Thomas.
Shirley Wilcher [00:18:06] Justice Thomas. And we met… I worked for Augustus Hawkins. He was the chair of the Committee on Education and Labor.
Karen Grigsby Bates [00:18:12] He's a Black congressman, but.
Shirley Wilcher [00:18:14] Congressman from the L.A. area. And he allowed us to really meet with Thomas to really let him know our displeasure, because he and his colleagues really tried to avoid having the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission even require affirmative action as a remedy for discrimination. That's where the battle started with the attorney general and with the administration. That's really where I if I recall correctly, the polarization began. Justice Thomas now, when he was up for confirmation, we were in trouble when he actually went on the Court of Appeals, we knew he was on a trajectory to the Supreme Court. And so we knew affirmative action certainly would be one of the targets, even though when I looked a few years ago, the Yale Historical Society had declared that Thomas was a beneficiary of affirmative action.
Karen Grigsby Bates [00:19:15] He said it himself in his autobiography, I guess, or his memoir, that he had been part of affirmative action, part of the reason he was so set against affirmative action existing in the future was that he questioned himself about, am I only here because I'm Black? He had good grades and so obviously not, and a good life story, but it apparently inflicted some trauma on him that has now played out in the decisions that we're looking at today. So then, Shirley, where do we go from here? I mean, what are the next steps in trying to honor what the Supreme Court has decided in this ruling and to ensure that there are diverse student bodies on campus? And what steps? Can we, as you know, as just normal civilians, what can we do to try to ensure that this diversity occurs going forward?
Shirley Wilcher [00:20:15] First of all, the biggest challenge is going to be on the K-12 level. We have to fix the problems of students of color, not getting access to the strong college prep programs that others do. We just have to fix that. Secondly, again, there are these race neutral alternatives, but in terms of the regular civilians, those in the population that are well endowed and there are, you know, people of color now who have the funds to create their own private foundations if they don't give the money directly to the colleges and if they manage it themselves, they can put whatever stipulations they want. So we've got to start supporting each other. I mean, we have to support and fund the HBCUs too, of course, and the Hispanic serving institutions. But for those who want to go to the Harvards and the Yale's, we really have to be more activist financially.
Karen Grigsby Bates [00:21:17] Well, we have our marching orders. I hope we can check back with you in the future to see how things are going. In the meanwhile, thank you so much for talking with us.
Shirley Wilcher [00:21:26] Thank you for having me. I'm delighted to be here.
Karen Grigsby Bates [00:21:29] That was Shirley Wilcher, executive director of the American Association for Access, Equity and Diversity.
Karen Grigsby Bates - For some, affirmative action is more than just a political talking point. It's played a pivotal role in their own education and professional journey. Sylvester Monroe is an award winning journalist and coauthor of the bestseller Brothers: Black and Poor a True Story of Courage and Survival. He's currently working on a book about the Black students, including himself, in Harvard's 1973 graduating class. And full disclosure, we met when he was at Harvard and have been friends ever since. So welcome to the show Vest.
Sylvester Monroe [00:22:14] Thank you, Karen. Pleasure to be here.
Karen Grigsby Bates [00:22:16] Affirmative action is on everybody's mind right now. You've been covering affirmative action for a while, notably during the early 1990. Think back and tell me what the general public's response was to affirmative action then.
Sylvester Monroe [00:22:30] Well, not only have I been covering affirmative action, I've actually been living it for quite a while. For one, affirmative action was never meant to be a permanent program. It was an attempt to redress a wrong and that wrong being the denial of the access to educational and employment opportunity. And it was to be gradually phased out as the playing field was leveled. And one of the most egregious misconceptions is that it allowed people of color, particularly Black people, to get things that they weren't qualified for and that it discriminated against more qualified white candidates for admission to college and or for jobs. And nothing could be further from the truth. But it is a misconception that has continued to this very day.
Karen Grigsby Bates [00:23:17] Just out of curiosity, have you had a number of people say to you over the years, oh, well, you know, you're taking a white person's place?
Sylvester Monroe [00:23:25] So when I was a young reporter just out of college in Boston, working for Newsweek in the Boston bureau, one of the first Black correspondents ever to be there, the advertising director was really upset one day and he came in and he was complaining that his son had tried to apply to 27 colleges and he had not been able to get into Harvard. And the reason was that it was because of affirmative action that they let so many unqualified Black students in. And then he looked over at me. He forgot that I was sitting there and he said, Well, I didn't mean like you. And I said, I think you did me. Like me.
Karen Grigsby Bates [00:23:59] Yeah, I want to talk about brothers for a minute. Your book, Brothers: Black and Poor A True Story of Courage and Survival is partly autobiographical, and it details and I'm going to quote you two yourself. Under affirmative action, a select few obtained a good education and succeeded in the mainstream world. Tell us about brothers and what inspired you to write this book.
Sylvester Monroe [00:24:21] Brothers is a story of 11 guys that I grew up with on the South Side of Chicago in what was then the largest public housing project in the United States called the Robert Taylor Homes. When this book was written in the mid to late 1980s, I was a White House correspondent at Newsweek magazine in the Washington bureau, and there were many stories being written at the time about Black males. And one of my editors had said to me, Do you think you could write about those Black guys you tell those wonderful stories about that you grew up with? And at first, I didn't want to do it because I thought it's not going to be done right and they're not going to give me the time to do it. But they did. And what the book did was to give us a chance to take a look at two things. One, to hear unfiltered voices of young Black men from the inner city in the pages of a mainstream publication like Newsweek magazine. The other thing it did was for us to sort of take a look at the difference between my life and their lives, and the difference between my life and their lives was the access to opportunity that affirmative action programs like A Better Chance and later the Harvard admissions program did for me. It's simply a matter of access to opportunity. That's what affirmative action is all about. And if you limit access by ending affirmative action and not replacing it with something else that now levels the playing field, you will get not an end, but a slowdown in the access to people becoming more economically stable, to breaking the barriers of economic class that do in fact exist in this country.
Karen Grigsby Bates [00:25:49] Somebody I talked to recently said, yeah, they may have opened the door for me to squeeze through, but if I hadn't done the work, I wouldn't have been allowed to stay because you have to do the work. Now, you graduated from Harvard in 1973. You went from living, as you noted, in public housing in Chicago to St George's. Talk about that a little bit.
Sylvester Monroe [00:26:10] So the first time I went to St George's School, I had never set foot on campus before I arrived to go to school there as what's called a Sixth former. And you talk about a cultural shock. I mean, for people who don't know, St George's School is in Newport, Rhode Island, down the hill from the Vanderbilt mansion in the Breakers. And it is part of that setting. It is an elite institution in every sense of the word. And I was so out of place there culturally, racially and in so many other ways. It was an all boys of. In church school, there were 205 or 206 boys, and there were only about seven Black students in the school. No Black student had ever graduated. There were no Jews, no Latinos. I mean, this was a school for elite, white, upper class boys, primarily from New York, Connecticut, Philadelphia suburbs.
Karen Grigsby Bates [00:27:01] This was designed to educate the next class of American leadership.
Sylvester Monroe [00:27:06] Absolutely. And in fact, I learned much later the headmaster at school at the time was largely responsible for pushing this agenda of integrating the school. He fought with the board of trustees, some of whom said this experiment about letting Black students in, we're not sure that they can really do this, but we need to go slow here and see if they can really do the work. The fact of the matter is that I was scared to death. So for a while I wondered. And then the first grades came out and I was fifth or sixth in the class and I thought, I can do this without any kind of bridge, which told me that the education that I'd received in the Chicago public Schools was really not that bad because I, in fact, had wonderful teachers at Wendell Phillips High School and was able to actually do the work. And when I discovered that I could do that, I began to embrace being there and say, Well, let me see what I can get out of this. I mean, this really is an opportunity.
Karen Grigsby Bates [00:28:02] You graduated from St George's. You went to Harvard. How would you say your Harvard experience prepared you for your work as a journalist, particularly one that covered both domestic and foreign affairs?
Sylvester Monroe [00:28:14] Well, by the time I got to Harvard, I was very self-confident about my academic abilities and my intellectual skills. At Harvard, I was what's called a social studies major as reading Tuskegee and Sartre. And people like that sort of to try and get a sense of people who thought deeply about things like philosophy. And that all helped me very much to become the kind of critical thinker that I think one needs to be a good journalist. I grew up seeing the world through a dual prism. I mean, I am the product of dirt poor former Mississippi Delta sharecroppers who migrated to Chicago in the 1950s during the Great Migration. Mm hmm. And I see the world through that prism. But I also see the world through the prism of someone who graduated from some of the elite educational institutions of the country. And that has helped me to see and understand how somebody takes a position that I may be personally, completely opposed to. And yet I can understand how they got there.
Karen Grigsby Bates [00:29:17] Journalism for a long time was a pretty white industry. It's changed over the years somewhat. What argument do you believe the leading voices of journalism are making for affirmative action now?
Sylvester Monroe [00:29:31] Well, the interesting thing is I think many people who lead journalism organizations believe affirmative action is a dirty word now. So the word now has become diversity and everybody believes in diversity. But it's one thing to say you believe in it, it's another thing to do something about it. And doing something about it requires that you understand what it's really about. And an example of that, when I just got into Time magazine and an editor said to me, you know, Sylvester, if we never hired another Black person or another person of color, we could still put out excellent magazines. But then I don't think that would be the right thing to do, would it? Which showed that he had no understanding at all of the true value of affirmative action, which is about more than numbers. It is about changing the culture of your organization.
Karen Grigsby Bates [00:30:17] Thank you for your time.
Sylvester Monroe [00:30:18] Thank you. It's always fun to talk to you, Karen.
Karen Grigsby Bates [00:30:21] That was Sylvester Monroe, author, an award winning journalist. He's also a senior fellow at the USC Annenberg Center on Communication, Leadership and Policy.
Karen Grigsby Bates - Welcome back to Our Body Politic. I'm Karen Grigsby Bates, sitting in for Farai Chideya. We've been unpacking the Supreme Court's recent decision rejecting affirmative action. I want to turn next to someone who studied how affirmative action has impacted admissions and recruitment in recent years and the changes it's been having on campus life. Professor Kelly E. Slay is an assistant professor of higher education and public policy at Vanderbilt University. Her research focuses on issues of race, diversity and equity in higher education. Thanks for joining us today, Kelly.
Kelly E. Slay [00:31:19] Thank you so much for having me.
Karen Grigsby Bates [00:31:21] First, tell me a little bit about your experience with this topic. How did your research and career begin to focus on diversity and inclusion in higher education specifically?
Kelly E. Slay [00:31:34] So I come to this conversation as a Black woman, as an alumna of the University of Michigan, which has been a battleground for affirmative action, and now a professor who studies race, diversity and equity in higher education, specifically in post affirmative action contexts. I was a student at the University of Michigan in 2003 during the Grutter and Graf's Supreme Court cases, which focused on undergraduate admissions and admissions at the law school. I was also a student in 2006 when the state voters decided to ban affirmative action in the state, and I then left, went to Chicago for about four years, came back in 2011 to begin my Ph.D. And Karen, I noticed a very visible decline in diversity on campus compared to when I was at the University of Michigan in 2003. Black student enrollment, for example, was around eight and a half percent After the statewide ban on affirmative action in 2006, that number dropped by nearly half. And so that raised a number of questions for me, like what happens when we no longer have race conscious affirmative action as a tool to diversify our campuses? And then developed a research study that focused on understanding Black students' perceptions of the campus environment and how it was affecting whether or not they chose to enroll at the University of Michigan. 35 Black students were part of the study, 15 that decided to enroll and 20 that went elsewhere. I also conducted observations of campus events, recruitment events. I had interviews with admissions professionals because I was trying to understand why do we see this very small number of Black students on campus?
Karen Grigsby Bates [00:33:33] Now we have the Supreme Court ruling that came down. What are you hearing from colleagues at Vanderbilt or at other higher ed institutions and professionals who are mulling over? What does this mean for us?
Kelly E. Slay [00:33:48] The reality is that although the ruling that came is devastating for those of us who work in higher education, I don't think anyone is surprised. They were planning for different contingencies. They were thinking about what might happen if we no longer are able to use race conscious affirmative action. What I think some folks were surprised by is just the opinion focused very narrowly on college admissions. Technically, it left race conscious affirmative action still intact so institutions can still think about other ways that they can take race conscious affirmative steps in order to recruit, in order to meet their institutional priorities for diversity. Thinking about financial aid, thinking about scholarships, thinking about campus programing, curricula, all of those things. The ruling, that opinion did not address those specific areas.
Karen Grigsby Bates [00:34:43] So you're thinking that there may be a little more wiggle room than some people originally anticipated?
Kelly E. Slay [00:34:50] That's right. There is some wiggle room, but I will say they did not provide any guidance on how institutions should move forward with the wiggle room that they have ironically. The Biden administration has provided some guidance and they're also bringing together scholars, experts from around the country for convening. Then I say we, because I have been invited to be a part of that convening, we'll talk about and strategize about what are some of the solutions and tips and suggestions that we can give colleges and universities so that they can continue to prioritize diversity.
Karen Grigsby Bates [00:35:32] I'm wondering whether there are any potential patterns and changes in the consideration of college choice? I mean, might there be students who were thinking this is sort of designed to keep me out, fine, I'm going to go someplace where I'm wanted? We talked to one student who has had to make a decision. Your niece, Chandler. She just went through the college application process. Let's listen to this.
Chandler McCree [00:36:00] As I was applying to various colleges. I always thought to myself how inclusive and diverse is the environment and what are the things that they offer that are welcoming to my own race. I had my aunt by my side and she always taught me that word fits for most people may not fit for me solely because of my identity. So she really instilled in me that I have to make sure that my needs are met because I want to feel included and, you know, heard.
Karen Grigsby Bates [00:36:26] So Chandler was lucky. She had an aunt who had been involved in research that would indicate where might be a good fit for her. How did you support Chandler through the admissions process?
Kelly E. Slay [00:36:38] The first thing that I wanted to share with her is that the admissions process is holistic. She should not be afraid to apply to certain colleges and universities because perhaps the average test score is really high, or perhaps the average GPA for their freshman class is a 3.9 and she has, you know, less than that. The other thing that we talked about, and this is borne out of my research, is the importance of finding a campus that fits you and fits you, not just in terms of your academic interest, a place where you feel that you will be supported, where you feel that you can find and develop community. She was looking at, you know, what is the level of racial diversity on campus? Have there been instances of racism that I should be aware of and how has the university responded to those things? And I think ultimately she made a really, really great decision. She's going to Loyola University, Chicago. The historic mission of that institution has been focused on, you know, serving the underserved social justice as a religious focused institution. And it also, you know, it's in Chicago, which as a place a city has a lot of racial and ethnic diversity. It's also a place where I once lived. And so it had a level of familiarity to her, but also a closeness to Michigan, which is where our family is from and where she grew up and graduated high school. And it had Black student organizations and initiatives that were focused on supporting students from underrepresented backgrounds. She graduated from a private high school, predominantly white high school, and being a part of the Blacks, an organization. Her high school was very, very important for her. It was a part of her being able to thrive and have a great experience, and she found that in Loyola.
Karen Grigsby Bates [00:38:36] That's great. Congratulations to her.
Kelly E. Slay [00:38:38] We're very, very proud of her.
Karen Grigsby Bates [00:38:40] Finally, there's access and there's student success. I'm wondering if you could talk a bit about how higher educational institutions support Black students and other students of color in succeeding once they’ve begun their studies. What are the support mechanisms that ensure that people go all the way through and actually get their diploma at the end?
Kelly E. Slay [00:39:06] I really appreciate this question because sometimes we can be so focused on the conversation and the discourse around college access and college admissions, but we have to also think about what happens once we get students on our campuses. I think that we need institutions to commit to double their efforts to think creatively about how they can support the well-being of students of color, who likely feel further isolated in this current environment that we're all trying to navigate. I’d love to see the president and his administration commit to more resources for federally funded programs like Gear Up and TRIO and McNair, which historically have been really important, and supporting students who are from lower and limited income backgrounds and students who are first generation to be successful in college and universities. I think it's also important that we consider mental health resources. You know, COVID 19 exposed and I think amplified many of the mental health challenges that students faced and also the racialized nature of what we were going through to experience death, to see the murder of George Floyd. We know from research that in states and on campuses where affirmative action has been banned. The decline and racial diversity lead students to feel more isolated than ever, to question their belonging to sometimes be the source of stereotypes and other microaggressions. So we need to be mindful and we need to be proactive about the types of resources that we make available to students.
Karen Grigsby Bates [00:40:56] So this is the long term plan.
Kelly E. Slay [00:40:58] It's a long term plan.
Karen Grigsby Bates [00:41:00] I have to say I'm really happy my child is in and out of college and out into the world and sort of earning a living because it's a lot that people are facing. Kelly, thank you so much for your wisdom and your perspective.
Kelly E. Slay [00:41:15] Thank you for having me.
Karen Grigsby Bates [00:41:20] That was Professor Kelly E. Slay, assistant professor of higher education and public policy at Vanderbilt University.
I want to wrap up our show by hearing from the people who are most impacted by the recent decision on affirmative action in higher education: The students. We asked our student listeners what their thoughts were on how the Supreme Court's decision will impact their futures. And here's what they had to say:
Ashley Alexander [00:41:52] As a Black student who did get accepted into one of the most competitive schools in the country, I was told every day that the only reason they chose me was because of affirmative action. Although that made me feel as though I didn't belong at my institution sometimes. At least I have the opportunity to say I attended a top university and didn't have my race be a negative factor in my application.
Chandler McCree - These colleges or schools in general weren't, you know, structured for the best interests of Black students a majority of the time. The freedom of action parties increased access to resources. And so without it, Black students will face additional challenges that will lead to the lack of diverse perspectives in classrooms and on campus. You know, the emotional impact for Black students, The rejection of affirmative action is very emotionally distressing. It can very much so reinforce feelings of marginalization, exclusion and a lack of recognition for the unique experiences that Black students possess.
Agustín León-Sáenz [00:42:50] Why is affirmative action and therefore diversity important in military institutions but not higher education? Are the bodies and physical labor of people of color more important than our brains and intellectual labor? I immigrated to the US as a child. However, I did not receive my green card until after I had applied to college, and I was scared that my lack of access to academic, extracurricular and professional opportunities as a first generation immigrants meant that even though I was a high school student with straight A’s in all AP classes, I would still be at a significant disadvantage in my college application process. Affirmative action didn't increase the admission of unqualified candidates. It only increased the equity of opportunity and the admission of qualified candidates from historically and presently marginalized backgrounds. And I really wish people understood that.
Mireille Scutt [00:43:39] The information is already very scarce for the application process, like even starting it. So if you don't have a mentor, like a counselor or family member, helping you with that process is already very hard. PWI is especially they don't have to be inclusive anymore, so they won't be even having the other academic requirements though. And instead they're going to choose you over a white person with the same accolades. They already favor white people. So they're going to keep choosing White House as they don't have to be inclusive anymore. And it's a shame.
Julian Taylor [00:44:07] I'm disappointed in the recent Supreme Court ruling because it feels like we're just starting to take steps to rectify historical tragedies and also because it establishes colorblindness as a social neutral, which simply cannot be the case. On the other hand, I think it left a lot of loopholes for universities to use in their admissions processes when we can't fully know how that's going to play out, because a lot of that is done in private. And so while the outlook does seem dire, I think there is a lot that needs to be seen.
Lauryn Williams [00:44:39] It completely dismisses the important work and intellect bipoc students bring to campus. Those students have actively shaped numerous of our university departments across the nation, and they have challenged colorblind, racist narratives that are reported in curriculums. I think what we'll see going forward is upper middle class white Americans in an echo chamber of their own ideas and culture at universities and due to their level of education and proximity to top resources, they will be given the task of solving the world's problems. But their perspective will be incredibly limited because they haven't had to work alongside people of different races. Nationalities and identities and inevitably they will exclude and they will not have to listen because we as a country haven't required that they do.
Avery Hobgood: I think in light of this sort of new reality, it's more important than ever to continue to fight for expanding access to quality higher education. The new focus is for students and faculty in organizations to unite and determine how we will keep our universities accountable and ensure that all of the statements that they're making right now about their values and commitments to diversity are not empty and that they're actually going to put in the work to establish equitable admissions and communities focused on diversity, equity and inclusion.
Christina Huang [00:46:09] There are still things that can be done. We can eliminate racially biased entrance exams and adopt a holistic approach to consider every aspect of a candidate’s background. We can target low income and first generation students to outreach programs that give academic support. We can recruit diverse faculty and staff who can serve as role models and mentors for our students, and we can create a welcoming and supportive campus climate that values diversity. Inclusion in all academic and social life. As an Asian-American, I'm very disappointed how my community was used like a racial wedge. It's not just about affirmative action, but a larger scale that are happening around the country. The abortion bans, book bans on kids of gender affirming care and in the coming years, I see a strengthening and defined generation of students and activists pushing together, fighting for equity for everyone.
Kashish Bastola [00:46:59] Harvard's student body, for the most part, has been very united and very resolute in our support for race conscious college admissions. 25 student and alumni groups have come together in an amicus brief that was filed by the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund. And in that brief, you can see our concern for not just the lack of a student's ability to talk about their full entities and the application, but also for a system that gives a monopoly of opportunity to those with generational wealth and generational privilege.
JJ Moore - The threat to educational equity is blatantly apparent, and it is frightening. However, in the past few weeks, I have seen students come together, standing united at the Supreme Court and on Harvard's campus. It was incredibly impactful to see how students, alumni and people who care about this issue immediately gathered together and spoke their stories, their truth and their desires for the future. Most of all, these rallies have proven that although the result of the case do not rule in favor of continuing affirmative action within universities and in colleges, students continue to hold power just by using their voices.
Karen Grigsby Bates [00:48:11] That was Our Body Politic student listeners with their take on the end of affirmative action.
Thanks for listening to Our Body Politic. We're on the air each week and everywhere you listen to podcasts. You can also find us on Instagram and Twitter @OurBodyPolitic.
Our Body Politic is produced by Diaspora Farms and Rococo Punch. I'm today's host Karen Grigsby Bates. Farai Chideya, Nina Spensley and Shanta Covington are executive producers. Emily J. Daly is our senior producer. Bridget McAllister is our booking producer. Natyna Bean and Emily Ho are our associate producers. Monica Morales-Garcia is our producer and fact checker. This episode was produced by Andrea Asuaje, Natyna Bean and Emily Ho. It was engineered by Mike Garth.
This program is produced with support from the Luce Foundation, Open Society Foundation, Ford Foundation, Craig Newmark Philanthropies, the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Philanthropies, Democracy Fund, The Harnisch Foundation, Compton Foundation, the Heising-Simons Foundation, the BMe Community, Katie McGrath & JJ Abrams Family Foundation, The Pop Culture Collaborative, and from generous contributions from listeners like you.