The US Supreme Court’s decision to overturn four decades of legal precedent and effectively ban higher education institutions from using race-conscious admissions practices is clearly a step backward in our pursuit of more equal educational opportunities for underrepresented students, many of whom are multilingual learners of English. But the court didn’t just restrict the criteria on which educational professionals are allowed to base their admissions; it also found that the pursuit of diversity in an institution’s student body through the consideration of race was not of sufficient importance to override the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment to the US Constitution.
Years of research have shown that all students benefit when their education involves interaction with students from different backgrounds, be they racial, linguistic, religious, socio-economic, or geographic. One of the most important roles (some may argue the most important) of any public education system is to expose students to peers who are different from them, with whom they may not agree at first (or ever), so that they can learn from each other and learn to respect each other. Schools and colleges have a duty to provide students with the opportunity to learn from a diverse group of peers reflecting the different cultures, viewpoints, political persuasions, and sexual orientations that make modern societies so vibrant and interesting.
This is the Communication Age, where we have the technology to interact with people the world over at minimal cost, but we need to be open to diversity if we are to make the most of it.
The court’s decision in Students for Fair Admissions v. Harvard and Students for Fair Admissions v. University of North Carolina will have repercussions for the quality of higher education institutions and the legitimacy of their admissions systems, but affirmative action was adopted mainly to try to counterbalance structural inequalities occurring earlier in the educational pipeline. More than six decades after the Brown v. Board of Education decision outlawed school segregation, public schools remain highly segregated along racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic lines.
According to a US Government Accountability Office report released last year, more than a third of students (about 18.5 million) attended a predominantly same-race/ethnicity school during the 2020–21 school year, and 14% of students attended schools where almost all of the student body was of a single race/ethnicity. This is largely because school district borders are drawn along municipality lines based on years of residential segregation. These same borders result in huge funding disparities between districts. According to a report from the nonprofit EdBuild (https://edbuild.org/content/23-billion), “For every student enrolled, the average nonwhite school district receives $2,226 less than a white school district.”
College admissions advisors are being advised to look at other criteria to help them make equitable decisions, but we also need to examine what can be done on a local level to improve educational integration from pre-K to college, including redistricting and improving local funding formulae. At the same time, as parents, educators, and administrators, we should be searching for ways to make all educational settings more diverse, like school trips, class matching, sister school initiatives, and learning collaborations through online networks. Encouraging the interaction of people from different races, cultures, countries, and backgrounds with different ideas, languages, principles, viewpoints, and biases improves the learning experience for all of us, and ultimately our lives.