On October 31, 2022, the Supreme Court heard two cases, SFFA v. Harvard and SFFA v. UNC, that will decide the future of race-conscious admissions policies across the United States.
SFFA, or Schools for Fair Admissions, is an organization created by an anti-affirmative action activist, Edward Blum, who wants to ban colleges from considering—or even knowing—the race of its applicants. SFFA’s lawsuits aim to eradicate colleges’ ability to consider the race of highly-qualified applicants. If the Court finds in SFFA’s favor, schools could lose the most powerful tool available to them in the effort to create dynamic and racially diverse learning environments.
Less than ten years ago, in Fisher v. University of Texas, the Supreme Court permitted schools to consider race as a factor when making admissions decisions and reaffirmed diversity on campuses as a “compelling governmental interest.” Prohibiting any consideration of race during a holistic review of applicants would undermine equality, negatively impact integration and inclusion efforts, and damage the ability of colleges and universities to prepare the next generation of students to thrive in an increasingly diverse nation.
While no Delaware schools are parties to these cases, the Court’s decision will impact students in the First State. California provides a clear example of the impact of prohibiting the consideration of race during a holistic admissions process. Passed in 1996, Proposition 209 prohibited the University of California system and other California state-entities from considering race, ethnicity, or sex when reviewing applications for public employment, contracts, or education. Following Prop 209’s passage, schools across the UC system saw declining admission from under-represented groups. If the Supreme Court prohibits the consideration of race as a factor in admissions policies, similar declines can be expected at schools like the University of Delaware, where the enrollment of Black, Latinx, and American Indian students already lags behind the state population.
It is important to remember that race-conscious admissions policies are necessary because of our country’s long history of discrimination and systemic inequality at both the higher education and K-12 levels. Delaware is not immune to this history. In fact, the plaintiffs in the Supreme Court’s landmark school desegregation case, Brown v. Board of Education, included students from Claymont and Hockessin that the state of Delaware forced to attend segregated schools.
In holding that segregated educational facilities are inherently unequal and in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment, the Supreme Court’s Brown decision did not magically remedy the problems of inequitable educational opportunities faced by Black students in Delaware or across the country. While the ACLU-DE’s historic settlement in our school funding case provides much-needed support for students in underfunded districts, it did not resolve all of the problems that continue to impact our schools. Zip codes define too many students’ educational experiences , and the inequitable distribution of resources and opportunities closely follow racial demographics. The First State contains many painful, and painfully obvious, examples of well-funded and well-resourced schools located in historically white neighborhoods, while nearby Black and brown neighborhoods must attempt to patch resource gaps before another generation of students fall through.
Regardless of the Court’s eventual holdings in the SFFA cases, work remains to be done in Delaware. Turning a “colorblind” eye to the continuing presence and impact of racism in the state’s educational systems will never solve the issues faced by Black and brown students.
To learn more about ACLU of Delaware’s work to ensure access to equitable educational opportunities for all Delaware students, regardless of their race or where they call home, check out the work of my colleague Shannon Griffin and our Equity in Education campaign.
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