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Jun 29, 2023 | In The News

Southern California lawmakers, community leaders and educators had mixed reactions to the Supreme Court’s new ruling that bans affirmative action in most college admissions.

The nation’s highest court on Thursday struck down affirmative action, declaring race cannot be a factor in deciding whether or not to admit someone into college. The Supreme Court’s decision prohibits current race-conscious admissions policies at Harvard and the University of North Carolina – and it changes over 40 years of legal precedent that has been used by many U.S. colleges and universities to diversify their campuses.

“Many universities have for too long wrongly concluded that the touchstone of an individual’s identity is not challenges bested, skills built, or lessons learned, but the color of their skin,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in the court’s 6-3 ruling. “This nation’s constitutional history does not tolerate that choice.”

In California, affirmative action has been barred in public college admissions since 1996. And in 2020, California voters overwhelmingly rejected a ballot measure – Prop. 16 – that would have brought it back.

The justices’ ruling could affect admissions policies in private colleges and universities across the state, as these schools will now need to follow suit in cutting affirmative action. It will also affect college-bound students who go to out of California for their education.

Proponents and schools that use affirmative action have long supported it, saying it addresses racial inequities and increases higher-ed graduation rates for students.

Supporters of the ruling argue that affirmative action violates laws that prohibit racial discrimination, contending that such policies favor some groups – particularly Black, Latino and Native American students – over others, such as Asian American and White students.

Ibert Schultz is the executive director of Black College Success, a program that works with Black high schoolers in south L.A. Schultz said that Black students “will pay the highest price.”

“This decision institutes the same kind of ‘colorblind’ policies that we’ve seen in California since Proposition 209 now apply to all colleges and universities while keeping practices like legacy and athletic preferences intact, further entrenching inequality into an already unfair admissions process that our students are already up against,” Schultz said.

Leaders from Asian Americans Advancing Justice Southern California denounced the decision in a statement.

“Let’s be clear: An attack on affirmative action harms all people of color, including Asian Americans,” it read. CEO Connie Chung Joe said that “racially diverse student bodies both enhance their learning, and foster understanding of each student’s lived experience.”

Elected officials’ reactions to the Supreme Court’s decision were split along party lines, with California Gov. Gavin Newsom blasting the decision.

Assemblymember Corey Jackson, D-Perris, also expressed his disappointment.

“This ruling doubles downs on the failed color-blind society experiment. This theory has proven to be false, because if you cannot see me, you cannot serve me and meet my unique needs that African Americans share,” Jackson said in a statement. “California has long prided itself on its commitment to equity, and it is time for us to live up to that promise.”

Rep. Sydney Kamlager-Dove, D-Los Angeles, called Thursday’s ruling a “dark day for equality and democracy, (that) sets the clock back on civil rights.” She called for more access to education and employment opportunities for people of color.

“The Court today chose wrong when they ruled to ignore race in a nation that has yet to accept its history rooted in racism,” she said.

But Rep. Michelle Steel, R-Seal Beach, praised the decision. In a statement, Steel said that U.S. colleges and universities have “stacked the deck against Asian Americans in the name of diversity.”

“I immigrated to this country from Korea when I was 19-years-old to pursue an education,” said Steel. “I am living my American Dream because, in this country, your actions determine your success – not your race and ethnicity. … Today’s victory marks a new chapter in the fight for equality in education.”

Rep. Young Kim, R-Anaheim Hills, also applauded the ruling, stating that “out-of-touch policies make the American dream out of reach. We should not hold students back and send a dangerous message that one’s race and background matters more than one’s merits and character.”

Just over 60% of Americans felt the Supreme Court should not block colleges from considering race or ethnicity in admissions decisions, a recent poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research found. A Pew Research Center survey also found that half of Americans disapprove of affirmative action, while 33% approve.

California educators were also divided on the landmark ruling.

USC President Carol Folt said that the decision – which now affects private universities – will not affect the university’s commitment to equity and diversity.

“This decision will not impact our commitment to creating a campus that is welcoming, diverse and inclusive to talented individuals from every background,” Folt said. “We will not go backward.”

Though the University of California’s system won’t be directly impacted, leaders were dismayed. UC Riverside Chancellor Kim Wilcox assured that “diversity is and will remain a critical aspect of fulfilling our obligations and mission. As a California institution committed to academic rigor, we practice inclusive excellence to strengthen our scholarly pursuits and serve the diverse people of our state. This remains a part of our campus identity and will not change.”

In statements posted to social media, Los Angeles Unified Superintendent Alberto Carvalho and LAUSD leaders were “horrified” that the Supreme Court “chose the side of privilege and structural racism” in the decision.

Debra Duardo, L.A. County Superintendent of Schools, reaffirmed the county’s commitment “to create and sustain a truly inclusive and equitable education system” for students.

Long Beach resident Mayra Lara, who serves as director of Southern California Partnerships and Engagement at The Education Trust-West, warned that with this ruling, college campuses “may no longer be reflective of the nation’s diversity.”

“Students might feel that deeply, and that might affect the way that they experience college,” Lara said. “We know from anecdotal data that it’s detrimental to be of one of only a few students of color on a college campus. It’s also important to continue to fight and to advocate… and to continue to apply. We know that the Supreme Court may be powerful, but so are students, who can be resilient advocates themselves.”

The Orange County Register

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