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The United States Cannot Afford to Forget Its History, Ever

In 1963, Vivian Malone attended the University of Alabama as an undergraduate. She did so, escorted by federal marshals to protect her from angry, violent protestors who believed so strongly that a Black student like her did not belong on campus. Here we are just 60 years later, and we may soon lose the hard-fought progress we have made toward equitable access to higher education.

In the coming weeks, the United States Supreme Court will announce a decision on affirmative action and race-conscious admissions. Though students of color in 2023 do not have to be escorted by a federal motorcade, like Vivian Malone, to attend their university, systemic barriers still prevent too many from gaining equitable college admission.

The very foundation of America’s higher education system is exclusion, and affirmative action must be protected to redress the harm it continues to cause. Researchers have found that the systemic barriers to degree completion are so ingrained in U.S. colleges and universities that it would require the U.S. higher education system to combat a multitude of practices acting as barriers for students of color – like transcript withholding and application fees –  to narrow racial equity gaps. Even more, within the last two decades, the most elite and well-funded U.S. public colleges and universities still lag in enrolling the increasing share of Black and Latinx students.

Affirmative action was one of the first policies to address ongoing and historical racial disparities in college – enabling colleges and universities to consider race as one of many factors in admissions selection. It comes as no surprise, then, that states like California which implemented a ban on affirmative action, saw Black student enrollment drop from four percent in 1998 to two percent in 2015. Affirmative action was not the silver bullet for equitable college access, but without it, progress toward racial equity will stall or reverse. To be sure, bans on race-conscious admissions have consequences beyond higher education. One should be concerned about what such a broad ban on race-conscious admissions would mean for the well-being and prosperity of communities that benefit the most, and one immediate concern is moving backward to close the racial wealth gap.

For many students of color, college is the sole option to move toward upward social mobility, often acquiring student loan debt to cover the costs of attendance in hopes of one day obtaining liveable wages. Yet, legacy admissions, standardized testing, and social capital are the actual unfair and unjust practices of the U.S. higher education system.

At the same time, affirmative action is equally beneficial to broad campus communities – supporting the expansion of thought and inclusivity in a diverse world. To support such sentiments, Young Invincibles reached out to our young adult network to understand their vantage point on this issue.

Amir Nijem, a student at the University of Chicago, shared, “The potential ending of affirmative action, especially within higher education, not only exacerbates social and economic inequality but hinders diversity on campus. Elite universities have always been a beacon for privileged individuals, such as legacy admissions or the recent Varsity Blues scandal. Being surrounded by different people with different life experiences and points of view makes for a more robust learning environment and challenges the status quo. The possible ending of affirmative action has broader implications that can impact many facets of our society.”


A recent graduate from Howard University, Evan Quaintance, stated, “In SFFA v. Harvard, what we see is a clear opportunity to prove to the world what our country stands for. Affirmative action has provided a needed pool of diversity within our universities and thought centers. The history of this country will only begin to be properly addressed when we amplify the melting pot of ideas that should represent our country. Anything less is a stoppage in our chase for a world we deserve to live in. We must push forward in our collective march to a better society, and even more, we must rely on key institutions such as the Supreme Court to serve as a shining example of what we should strive for. Through this case, the Supreme Court has the opportunity to assert its view for the future of our country and if the vibrant, underheard, and transformative ideas from communities like mine are a priority in their mind.”


Noura Chbeir stated, “As a Harvard College alumna who recently visited campus for my fifth reunion, I am so thankful that Harvard’s admissions office consciously created a cohort where our identities, backgrounds, and experiences lent to critical conversations on campus that allowed us raw and open dialogue. I think back to what truly set my experience at Harvard College apart from other institutions – it was the people. Affirmative Action and race-conscious admissions, when done right, grows the pie for all and create a more enriching environment. I can absolutely affirm that Harvard is a more educational space by centering diversity and equity, and that’s the Harvard I envision for future generations.”

We could not agree more with young adults and believe in the power of a more equitable, inclusive, and racially diverse society. Overturning years of precedent on affirmative action would be a step in the wrong direction, and we must remember how far we have come and the ways we have to go.