By Hemish Naidoo
On June 29, 2023, the Supreme Court voted 6-3 to overturn affirmative action, the controversial college admissions policy that sought to elevate students from disadvantaged backgrounds and promote campus diversity. The decision was divided along ideological lines, with all six conservative judges voting to overturn the 2003 Supreme Court case, while the three who dissented were liberal.
In their ruling, the Supreme Court emphasized that admissions policies that heavily factor race are unlawful, with conservative Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., stating that such policies “... unavoidably employ race in a negative manner, involve racial stereotyping and lack meaningful points.” The Chief Justice noted that colleges remain free to consider race or ethnic-related experiences in parts of the admissions process, such as the college essay. The primary goal of the ruling, according to Roberts, was for colleges to assess individuals more holistically, with less priority given to their race.
On the other side of the court, liberal Justice Sonia Sotomayor, one of the three dissenters, pressed that the overturning of affirmative action “... further [entrenches] racial inequality in education, the very foundation of our democratic government and pluralistic society.” President Joe Biden and many other Democrats also publicly voiced their disapproval of the decision, viewing the Supreme Court’s recent actions more of a conservative display of power against the President’s democratic agenda.
In the aftermath of the ruling, speculation brewed among Adelphi students and faculty about how the decision might influence the admissions process of universities like this one. According to Adelphi's website,whites and Asians/Pacific Islanders, the two groups believed to be most hindered by affirmative action, currently make up 43% and 16% of Adelphi’s student body respectively. Blacks and Hispanics, thought to be affirmative action’s most substantial beneficiaries, currently comprise 10% and 22% of Adelphi’s students. As for how these student demographics might shift overtime, that remains unknown.
Some Adelphi administrative members have already expressed their thoughts on the matter to prevent confusion. Kristen Capezza, Adelphi’s vice-president of enrollment management and communications, said, “Our employment of race-neutral recruitment programs like test optional admissions and our Transfer Tuition Guarantee alongside our participation in varied recruitment events for diverse communities will continue to ensure that Adelphi remains a diverse, inclusive, and welcoming campus for years to come.”
Adelphi’s lack of race-focused admissions policies, along with Capezza’s affirmation that Adelphi will continue with its current admissions strategies, could mean that the end of affirmative action might have few consequences on how Adelphi admits its subsequent classes during the upcoming years, with diversity and inclusivity still being given great emphasis.
Adelphi President Christine Riordian also candidly shared her views on the situation in a public statement released on June 29: “Race-conscious admissions policies have been used for decades by America’s most highly selective universities, which often turn away qualified students. Considering race as one factor in a holistic admissions process allowed them to level the playing field for applicants with less access to resources and educational opportunities than peers who were less likely to be marginalized according to the color of their skin. It helped foster an intentionally diverse community within classrooms and systems not originally recognized for access and inclusivity.”
While President Riordian acknowledged the potential drawbacks of affirmative action in denying academically qualified students for the sake of those with fewer opportunities, she also highlighted how it was necessary for a true holistic college admissions process, as it took the background of students into consideration.
The legacy of affirmative action in general was one mired in constant debate. The argument against it was that colleges making distinctions based on race were discriminatory and unfair to highly-qualified applicants who could lose potential seats to those less-qualified.
Alex Neampong, a sophomore history and honors student, said of this idea: “I used to think [in high school] that anyone that put in the time and effort to prepare themselves for the [SHSAT] exam could score well and get into a good high school. In that sense, I can somewhat see the perspective in those that agree that affirmative action should be overturned. There are people that worked hard and deserve that spot.
“However, in a lot of cases, there is a lot more nuance to the problem, particularly in the sense that there are people that have the resources to prepare for exams, to carefully look over college essays and applications, or have ways to comfortably fund their way through college,” Neampong continued. “In the end and in most cases (from what I can tell) people that make it to college had some form of additional support that those that would benefit from affirmative action did not have.”
Alternatively, President Riordian pointed out: “Regardless of Adelphi’s lack of race focused admissions or the ruling, creating a sense of belonging on campus for individuals representing all ethnicities, belief systems and expressions is essential to a transformative learning environment. Welcoming different perspectives, lived experiences and opinions prepares our students for the diverse world in front of them… Adelphi will continue to expand our recruitment in underrepresented communities and improve access to higher education with innovative strategies. We will add to our campus diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging (DEIB) programming and introduce new academic and co-curricular opportunities to meet every interest.”
The role of diversity for a college campus can go beyond the need for inclusivity for students from numerous backgrounds and provide real intellectual and academic benefits to the entire student body.
“Another major issue in overturning affirmative action is that it removes the voices of underrepresented people from other students in higher education,” Neampong said. “When more voices are heard, it creates a collective understanding of who we are, how we got to where we are, and where we would be able to go. Furthermore, by cutting off said voices, a sort of echo chamber environment is created, which I feel can only lead to misunderstanding and elitism, thus furthering this idea of an ‘us versus them’ world… It is a massive problem to have settings like colleges be dominated by the same group of people. If the first step towards solving the problem is recognizing that there is one in the first place, the overturning of affirmative action denies that there is a problem at all.”
Ultimately, the end of affirmative action opens a new door: one of fear and urgency, or one of new opportunities, depending on the individual. With Adelphi’s admissions policies remaining race-neutral, a clear and coordinated effort to grow student diversity on campus while providing acceptances to those deserving remains Adelphi’s main goal.