In the Absence of Affirmative Action, Biden Administration Provides Guidance to Universities Regarding Enhancing Diversity

Recent Guidance by the Biden Administration Highlights the Importance of Campus Diversity in College Admissions Following the Supreme Court’s Decision to Discontinue Affirmative Action

In response to the highly anticipated Supreme Court verdict that has prohibited the use of affirmative action in admissions and overturned longstanding precedents, the Biden administration has issued fresh directives on Monday, urging colleges and universities to persist in their commitment to fostering diverse campus environments during the application process.

The civil rights divisions of both the federal Education and Justice departments have released a comprehensive array of legal resources this week. These resources emphasize the significance of institutions continuing to gather applicants’ demographic information, taking into account experiences related to race, and ensuring sustained student engagement once admitted.

During a media briefing, Education Secretary Miguel Cardona remarked, “The Supreme Court’s decision to discontinue affirmative action has removed a tool that educational institutions have relied upon for decades to cultivate diverse campus communities and provide equitable prospects for students from all backgrounds. Historical evidence demonstrates that when individual states have previously banned affirmative action, applications from students of color decreased, resulting in fewer admissions. We cannot permit such a decline on a national scale.”

The Ruling of the Supreme Court Explained
In its ruling on June 29, the Supreme Court declared that factoring in an applicant’s race for college admissions is unconstitutional.

More specifically, the justices determined that the quantifiable assessment of the educational advantages derived from diversity is not feasible, and that educational institutions had not adequately substantiated the utilization of race-conscious admissions as the sole mechanism for achieving a diverse campus.

Nonetheless, the 6-3 decision, authored by Chief Justice John Roberts, contained a noteworthy caveat: “It should be noted that this ruling does not preclude universities from considering an applicant’s personal reflections on how race influenced their life, whether as a result of discrimination, as a source of inspiration, or in any other relevant manner.”

Biden Administration Affirms: Open Dialogue on Race and Lived Experiences Still Permitted

The Biden administration has underscored this key point, and its fresh set of guidelines predominantly centers on motivating colleges to operate within this framework. “We want to make it clear that admissions officers are permitted to take into account the information they acquire during the application review process; this is not something the court has mandated them to disregard,” stated Catherine Lhamon, Assistant Secretary at the Department of Education. “In light of the court’s decision, we are reminding educational institutions that they should avoid utilizing demographic data related to the race of student applicants as a factor in admissions determinations. However, the court’s verdict does not preclude admissions officers from being informed about an individual applicant’s racial background.”

In alignment with this perspective, the resources provided by the White House accentuate that colleges are both capable of and encouraged to uphold comprehensive admissions practices. Within such an approach, each student’s profile is evaluated on an individual basis, encompassing various dimensions rather than solely relying on quantifiable metrics such as standardized test scores and grade point averages.

Illustratively, a university might opt to admit a student whose counselor highlighted her journey of triumph over feelings of isolation as a Latina in a predominantly Caucasian high school, detailing how she subsequently joined the debate team. Alternatively, they might consider admitting an applicant whose essay chronicles her discovery of cooking her grandmother’s traditional Hmong dishes, an experience that kindled her culinary fervor and deepened her connection to her heritage, thereby nurturing a burgeoning sense of identity.

In these instances, institutions of higher learning possess the prerogative and are indeed encouraged to assess the applicants’ race-related lived experiences through the lens of qualities such as determination, inquisitiveness, or bravery, rather than merely focusing on the applicants’ racial background itself.

Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta stated, “The Supreme Court’s ruling acknowledges a truth that we recognize: race can be an integral aspect of an individual’s life or lived encounters, influencing their personal growth, motivations, academic passions, and even their aspirations in personal and professional spheres.”

Approaches to Cultivate Campus Diversity
As articulated in the provided recommendations, there exist additional variables within the admissions process that universities should contemplate. For instance, they may opt to admit a greater proportion of first-generation students, discontinue the practice of favoring legacy applicants (children of alumni), or introduce measures such as offering the choice to submit standardized test scores. Additional considerations encompass the elimination of prerequisite courses like calculus, which might be inaccessible in low-income educational settings, and the potential waiving of application fees.

Expanding beyond the admissions sphere, the counsel underscores a spectrum of strategies aimed at fostering inclusivity on campus.

Advocates have long championed intensified recruitment efforts in underrepresented or economically disadvantaged communities. The documents unveiled on Monday underscored these initiatives as a pivotal avenue to bolstering and sustaining campus diversity.

“In the process of identifying potential students through outreach and recruitment, institutions, as is frequently practiced, may take into account factors that encompass not only race but also factors such as geographical residency, financial circumstances, socioeconomic background, family lineage, and parental educational attainment,” as highlighted in the guidance.

Navigating Post-Supreme Court Landscape: Admissions, Demographic Data, and Inclusivity

In light of the recent Supreme Court ruling, certain quarters have raised queries about the legality of amassing applicants’ demographic details. However, the fresh guidelines underscore the continued significance and validity of such data collection. The guidance underscores that demographic information remains indispensable in averting discriminatory admissions practices and crafting programs attuned to the requirements of students.

Additionally, the guidance places a strong emphasis on the need to ensure the retention of students of color once they become part of the campus community. This objective can be achieved through the establishment of entities like cultural centers, affinity groups, and diversity offices. So long as these resources are accessible to students from all backgrounds, the guidelines assert their legality.

While recent times have witnessed increased scrutiny of such initiatives, and certain states have taken measures to curtail them, the Biden administration maintains that these resources are of heightened importance. They play a pivotal role in fostering a sense of belonging and providing necessary support to students during their campus journey.

Calls for Enhanced Examination of Racial Discrimination in Education Grow Stronger Among Democrats

Following the release of the educational resources, Representative Bobby Scott of Virginia, who holds the position of ranking member on the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, issued a statement lauding the newly provided guidance. He further emphasized the necessity of continuous scrutiny regarding the pervasive influence of racial dynamics on various policies and practices within the educational framework.

Highlighting the significance of the matter, he remarked, “This is of paramount importance, as race-conscious admissions policies have historically served as a counterbalance to a multitude of factors, including but not limited to disparities in K-12 education, racially biased admissions assessments, and entrenched legacy admissions practices, all of which have unjustly disadvantaged students of color.”

Earlier in the month, Representative Scott penned a formal letter to Assistant Secretary Catherine Lhamon, formally urging an in-depth investigation into trends perpetuating racial disparities in the educational landscape. These trends include the disproportionate suspension and expulsion rates among Black boys and the persistent racial segregation prevalent within public schools.