Late this October, the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments in two cases that could have major implications for diversity in college admissions. In an email to the University of Connecticut community, president Radenka Maric affirmed the importance of what she called “holistic admissions processes” and diverse learning environments. Maric’s proactive comments assured readers that, regardless of the outcome of the cases, UConn would remain committed to creating and sustaining a diverse community.
“At stake is the ability of universities to recruit a diverse and dynamic student body through holistic admissions processes,” Maric said in the email. “We value diverse learning environments that help students sharpen their critical thinking and analytical skills, prepare students to succeed in an increasingly diverse and interconnected world, break down stereotypes and reduce bias, and enable UConn to fulfill its role in opening doors for students of all backgrounds.”
Students for Fair Admissions v. Harvard and University of North Carolina concerns the ability of universities to consider the race and ethnicity of applicants. Affirmative action supporters claim that this is a critical process in addressing structural racism and building a diverse student body, according to the Washington Post. SFFA is challenging over 40 years of legal precedent. The ability to implement a holistic, race-conscious admissions process was established in 1978 in Regents of the University of California v. Bakke and has been upheld in several other Supreme Court cases, most recently in 2016.
Rather than solely considering an applicant’s GPA and test scores, a holistic admissions process also considers the applicant’s unique experiences and background. This process allows universities to consider a broad range of factors contributing to academic readiness and potential for success.
As Maric shared in her email, diverse learning environments benefit all learners, as well as society at large. According to Dr. Jeffrey Hines, UConn Health’s inaugural chief diversity officer, by building a racially diverse student body, universities not only help to uplift historically marginalized groups but also curate viewpoint diversity in the classroom. By bringing together students from different backgrounds and different points of view, he said, students can challenge their perspectives and learn from one another.
“UConn’s mission is to make sure that our students are global citizens so that we’re informed and we’re well educated about not just the state of the world but the experiences of other people, As a student, [diversity] informs us about the society in which we live, in that our world is larger than our own point of view and our own perspective.”Mason Holland
“Viewpoint diversity, thought diversity and cognitive diversity drive the ability for people to be better problem solvers, to be better at approaching situations and solving complex issues, and to have better initiatives around critical thinking,” Hines said in a virtual interview.
Students feel this benefit as well. Mason Holland, a seventh-semester student and Undergraduate Student Government president, said that he has personally felt the positive impact of diversity in the classroom.
“UConn’s mission is to make sure that our students are global citizens so that we’re informed and we’re well educated about not just the state of the world but the experiences of other people,” Holland said in an interview. “As a student, [diversity] informs us about the society in which we live, in that our world is larger than our own point of view and our own perspective.”
Beyond college admissions, Hines said the outcome of this case could have far-reaching ripple effects on all aspects of society.
“Diverse teams drive the building in general of diverse workforces, which are beneficial to a variety of different industries and sectors,” Hines said. “So it’s not the benefit that a compositionally diverse person gets, but there are benefits that are to the learning environment, which is critical to all of us.”
UConn has been more proactive in prioritizing diversity, equity and inclusion in recent years. Last year, then-interim UConn president Andrew Agwunobi joined the state of Connecticut in declaring racism a public health crisis. This year’s freshman class, the class of 2026, is the most diverse in the history of the university, with 47% being students of color. Furthermore, in addition to her email, president Maric published an op-ed in the CT Mirror affirming the importance of diverse college communities.
“DIVERSE TEAMS drive the building in general of diverse workforces, which are beneficial to a variety of different industries and sectors. so it’s not the benefit that a compositionally diverse person gets, but there are benefits that are to the learning environment, which is critical to all of us.”Dr. Jeffrey Hines
“UConn is being very proactive in this space,” Hines said. “I’m proud of UConn and the state of Connecticut’s response.”
Despite these gains in the realm of diversity and inclusion, Holland said UConn still has room to grow. Along with the nation, UConn experienced a surge of interest and activism in 2020 in the wake of George Floyd’s murder. Since then, he said that fire and push for change has died down a bit.
“I think that the farther BLM [Black Lives Matter] has gotten away from the national and also the collective consciousness at UConn, the administrative priorities have also shifted to not really supporting diversity and equity as much,” Holland said. “I don’t think it’s as much of a priority as it once was.”
Many students of color said they are feeling scared and disillusioned by the prospect of this Supreme Court decision.
“As a woman of color, I feel, and I think many people of color are probably feeling, this anxiety and fear for the future,” Srimayi Chaturvedula, USG’s communications director, said in an interview. “When you don’t consider a part of someone’s identity that’s really important to them and who they are…it’s like a slap in the face, it’s honestly a scary reality to picture.”
Nonetheless, Holland said he and USG are working hard to act on their goals of equity and inclusion. This includes pushing the university to continue to hire more diverse faculty members and provide more funding and resources to the cultural centers and programs. He said USG is also working to make the one-credit UNIV 3088 “Anti-Black Racism” course mandatory and focusing on supporting students during this uncertain time.
“It’s really important to acknowledge the emotional aspect of how these kinds of things affect students,” Chaturvedula said. “On behalf of USG and everyone in USG, there’s always a safe space for students with us … and that will never change.”
The Court’s opinion on the Harvard and UNC cases is not expected until next summer. Although, during the oral arguments last month, questioning from the six conservative Supreme Court Justices was “sharp and skeptical,” according to the New York Times.
“This case could have disastrous effects for Black and Brown students across the nation if we no longer look at race and incorporate it into college admissions,” Holland said. “It’s really an equity thing, it’s not an equality thing.”
“as a woman of color, i feel, and i think many people of color are probably feeling, this anxiety and fear for the future. when you don’t consider a part of someone’s identity that’s really important to them and who they are, it’s like a slap in the face, it’s honestly a scary reality to picture.”Srimayi Chaturvedula
While equality emphasizes the even distribution of resources, equity considers the unique circumstances that individuals face and appropriately allocates resources to reach an equal outcome. Equity is at the very heart of affirmative action policies; it ensures that historically marginalized groups are given opportunities to succeed that weren’t previously available to them, leveling the playing field, according to the ACLU.
Regardless of the outcome of this case, Chaturvedula said that students of all identities will find support at USG and the wider UConn community. Still, advocates insist students continue to fight for issues that matter to them.
“I really implore students to give validation to their feelings, continue to be educated about what is going on and how it is going to affect generations after us,” Holland said. “But also to not give up hope. There are things that we can do in our own way — we don’t have to seek out power when we have power within ourselves.”
- Dr. Jeffrey Hines, Chief Diversity Officer, UConn Health, email@example.com
- Mason Holland, President, UConn Undergraduate Student Government, firstname.lastname@example.org
- Srimayi Chaturvedula, Communications Director, UConn Undergraduate Student Government, email@example.com
- President Maric’s email in UConn Today: https://today.uconn.edu/2022/10/u-s-supreme-court-cases-college-university-admissions/?utm_source=student-daily-digest&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=daily
- President Maric’s op-ed in CT Mirror: https://ctmirror.org/2022/10/25/at-uconn-and-throughout-the-u-s-diverse-college-communities-are-essential/
- The New York Times’ report on oral arguments: https://www.nytimes.com/2022/10/31/us/supreme-court-harvard-unc-affirmative-action.html
- Office of the General Counsel: Case Summary: https://generalcounsel.uconn.edu/2022/10/24/supreme-crt-considers-race-in-admissions-sffa-v-harvard-unc/