With the Supreme Court poised to consider the fate of affirmative action later this year, experts say the decision could have wide-reaching effects on the number of Black and Hispanic students admitted to selective schools. But administrators at Tufts said the possible end of affirmative action will not thwart the university’s commitment to building a student body that’s more diverse.
Tufts is one of hundreds of selective schools to consider race in admissions, but officials affirmed applicants are given a “holistic” look that weighs dozens of factors, including academic and co-curricular accomplishments, identity and lived experience.
“To achieve our mission as an institution and build the kind of community that we believe best prepares our students to go out into the world as active citizens, we need to be able to take into consideration the myriad identities and lived experiences of our applicants among very many factors,” JT Duck, dean of admissions, said in a statement.
He added that admissions officers value the way an applicant uses the opportunities available to them.
But the Supreme Court’s decision last month to hear a challenge to affirmative action sounded the alarm for some experts who fear the conservative-leaning body may rule against the use of race in admissions.
Brought by the anti-affirmative action group Students for Fair Admission, the case accuses Harvard and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill of discriminating against white and Asian American applicants and giving preference to Black, Hispanic and Native American students.
The Harvard case alleges the university violates Title VI, which forbids discrimination based on race in places that receive federal government funding. SFFA claims the elite university uses subjective measures, like courage and kindness, as a basis for excluding some Asian Americans from admission.
The case was filed in 2014 and SFFA has since lost twice: once in a trial court in 2019 and another time in a court of appeals in 2020. The second ruling prompted SFFA to file a petition last year calling on the top court to consider the suit, despite repeated strong rulings against the plaintiffs.
The case against UNC, a public school, accuses the university of violating the Equal Protection Clause and discriminating against white and Asian American applicants. The two cases will be considered together by the court.
Affirmative action has been upheld repeatedly by the Supreme Court, with the most recent ruling coming in 2016 in a lawsuit filed against the University of Texas. Since then, three Trump-appointed justices have joined the Supreme Court, shifting the court’s ideological balance rightward.
One of the reasons affirmative action has continued to be upheld is because it has been proven to benefit all students, including those who are white or Asian American, Natasha Warikoo, professor of sociology at Tufts, said in an interview with the Daily.
Warikoo, an expert on racial inequality in education, said the end to affirmative action would likely mean fewer Black, Latino and Native American students earning admission to highly competitive schools.
“I think [there] will be lost opportunities for students who are very capable and who could do well at those places,” Warikoo said.
She added that affirmative action has been proven to engender more positive racial attitudes and greater civic engagement in students of all backgrounds in a diverse student body.
Affirmative action can counteract racial inequality in higher education while serving as reparations for many selective universities “who benefited either directly or indirectly from racial exclusion,” Warikoo said.
But she emphasized that the top court, which is likely to hear the case this fall, may rule in favor of the longstanding admissions practice, despite a conservative majority.
After celebrating its most diverse applicant pool in history this year, Tufts will continue to prioritize diversity, Patrick Collins, a university spokesperson, said.
“Diversity is vital to creating a climate that encourages learning both in and out of the classroom, fosters respectful conversations and provides all of our students with transformational experiences,” Collins said. “We’re committed to continuing to attract and admit a diverse student body and to working across the university to foster an inclusive and diverse environment that makes everyone feel welcome.”