Supreme Court Ruling on Affirmative Action Reflections

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Our current mission at Student U is to empower and equip first-generation college students in Durham Public Schools, their families, and educators to become the leaders that will transform our city. Although the focus of our efforts has been on the Durham community, we know that national issues inevitably impact us, also. I have been pondering – struggling, honestly – as to how to best address the Supreme Court ruling personally and as an organization.

Our current problem statement reads, “As a result of structural racism, poverty, and other systemic injustices, first-generation college-bound students face significant personal and institutional obstacles to educational success. This situation prevents our community from reaching its full potential.”

The Supreme Court ruling last week against the use of “race” as a basis for admissions to colleges and universities was deeply disappointing. Affirmative action efforts were created in the 1960’s during the Civil Rights Movement to counteract the disparities in access to higher education for marginalized populations – specifically People of Color. Despite historical data that continues to demonstrate the inequities in not only access to higher education opportunities for People of Color, but also lack of diversity in faculty and staff at many of those institutions, the Supreme Court’s ruling tips the scales back in favor of the discriminatory practices that have kept them unbalanced in the first place.

Bernice King, the youngest daughter of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., has stated, “Being truthful about the state of our nation and world does not equal losing hope. Hope sees truth and still believes in better. That which dismisses or does not seek truth, but grins, saying ‘It will be okay,’ is naivete, not hope.” In another notable quote, Bernice King proclaimed, “If you don’t think representation matters, you’re probably well represented.” Interestingly enough, Christine King Farris, the sister of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and aunt of Bernice King, passed away on the same day of the Supreme Court ruling regarding affirmative action. My immediate response was to receive the loss of Dr. Christine King Farris with a feeling of gratitude for her life and her efforts in education and activism, and as a charge for us as the next generation to receive the proverbial passing of the baton.

Historical data presents the truth and shows the disproportionate representation of Black and Brown people in institutions of higher education – specifically in Ivy League, “Tier I,” private, and many, if not most, state-supported colleges and universities. Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) were founded just prior to the Emancipation Proclamation and continued to evolve during the Reconstruction era for that reason. The impact of affirmative action goes beyond education, though. Education impacts income, wealth creation, home ownership, job attainment, social capital networks, etc., etc. The access that was denied Black and Brown people to both public and higher education for decades are in large part what created the gaps in access that still exist today. Legacy creates opportunity for some, inequity and lack of access for others. But “legacy” status in access in higher education is not considered affirmative action?

My ask of each of us is to continue creating a culture at Student U that supports our staff, students, and families; to continue being intentional about living into our values and grounding beliefs and ensuring a safe learning environment for our students; to continue presenting opportunities for our students and community to discover and utilize our gifts and talents for good; and to continue encouraging our community to create and inhabit spaces where our gifts and talents can not only be developed and strengthened, but also recognized and valued. That includes having our students consider post-secondary options where they are celebrated and not just tolerated. We all deserve that. This recent ruling reminds us that as hard as we work towards justice and equity there are others who are working towards the exact opposite. So we recognize that truth while still holding on to hope and working to make hope reality for our students, families, community, and not less importantly ourselves.

America is not, has never been, and, in my humble opinion, will never be a “color-blind” society. We see and experience the difference that race makes in access and quality of life not only in this country, but in our world. In her dissent to the Supreme Court ruling, Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson stated that “deeming race irrelevant in law does not make it so in life…” We have our work cut out for us. In the meantime, I hope that each of you will enjoy some time to rest and reflect today. True independence and freedom are still in progress in our nation.


Yours in service and partnership,

Michelle Price

Student U Executive Director


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