For decades, affirmative action has been a deeply integral — and deeply debated — aspect of college admissions in the United States. The idea that colleges can (and in some cases, should) consider race as a factor in whom they decide to admit has been welcomed by many as a solution to racial inequities and divides. But others have dismissed the policy as outdated in our current climate, and at times scorned it as a form of reverse racial discrimination.
That latter stance gained a much stronger footing last week when the Departments of Education and Justice officially withdrew Obama-era guidance on affirmative action, signaling that the Trump administration stands behind race-blind admissions practices.
We spoke with Natasha Warikoo, an expert on the connection between college admissions and racial diversity, about what affirmative action has accomplished in the past 50 years, and whether this shift in guidance will severely affect admissions policies in the years to come. We share her perspectives here.
The purpose of affirmative action:
Affirmative action was developed in the 1960s to address racial inequality and racial exclusion in American society. Colleges and universities wanted to be seen as forward-thinking on issues of race.
Then, in the late 1970s, affirmative action went to the United States Supreme Court. There, the only justification accepted, by Justice Powell, was the compelling state interest in a diverse student body in which everyone benefits from a range of perspectives in the classroom.