Ishaan Nandwani, Opinions Editor
Diversity is almost certainly the buzzword of the 21st century for institutions of higher education.
It has been celebrated in charts on college pamphlets and brochures, lauded by admissions officers in presentations to prospective students and served as the focal point of countless schools’ mission statements.
There’s a reason why diversity is so sought after though, particularly at elite schools. These institutions recognize that while Black, Latino and Indigenous students have historically been at a disadvantage in the education system, their perspectives and experiences are vital. Affirmative action has been the solution to increasing diversity at prestigious universities and one that I believe to be essential.
Affirmative action allows colleges and universities to consider an applicant’s race and background when making admissions decisions, although it forbids explicit racial quotas. Despite its benefits, this practice has been frequently contested by those who argue that applicants should be evaluated by their credentials alone.
Frighteningly, despite its longstanding history in college admissions, affirmative action is at risk of being banned. On Oct. 31, the Supreme Court will hear two cases that could overrule this precedent.
The first case alleges that Harvard University discriminates against Asian American applicants. The second case argues the University of North Carolina consistently uses race to give admissions boosts to underrepresented minorities. These lawsuits were filed by Students for Fair Admissions, an anti-affirmative action organization run by a coalition of students and parents.
Although lower courts have ruled in favor of Harvard and UNC and the Supreme Court has upheld affirmative action in the past, given the court’s shift to the right — exacerbated by the three justices appointed by former President Donald Trump — the danger of this precedent being overturned is real. We’ve already seen abortion rights stripped away and gun rights expanded; another controversial decision from this court would not surprise me.
The overruling of affirmative action would be catastrophic, both for our universities and greater workforce.
Affirmative action has been consistently proven to be the most effective way to increase diversity at selective colleges. At the University of Michigan, an institution that is not permitted to practice affirmative action by state law, diversity has suffered. According to a brief from the university in support of Harvard and UNC, Michigan has engaged in countless outreach efforts to increase enrollment of underrepresented minority students, but these efforts have been unsuccessful. Enrollment of underrepresented minority students has fallen.
Diversity in itself is essential for a myriad of reasons. A racially homogenous student body would suffer from not only a lack of physical dissimilarity, but also from an absence of diversity in ideas, worldviews and cultural perspectives.
Additionally, representation is essential — whether for the Black student who’s the only one of his race in his engineering lecture at Harvard, or the young Latina student who dreams of attending Brown but yearns to see someone like her admitted.
If affirmative action is overturned, the mental health of underrepresented minority students may suffer as their enrollment at elite schools plummets, leading to a vicious cycle that prevents these students from achieving the same success as their white and Asian counterparts.
The impact of this decision will also be felt in the workforce. We will see less underrepresented minorities who are physicians, lawyers and engineers. In the medical field, my personal career path, studies have consistently shown that Black patients have better health outcomes when treated by providers that match their racial background. Thus, this decision has far reaching implications that extend far beyond the racial makeup of a university, affecting something as sacred as one’s health.
The Supreme Court must confront this sobering truth when deliberating these cases this fall.
Ultimately, as the best method to increase diversity at selective schools, affirmative action is an essential aspect of the admissions process. We can’t let it die out.