Supreme Court decision on affirmative action is shameful

by Anasazi Ochoa

The latest Supreme Court decision in Students for Fair Admissions, INC. v. President and Fellows of Harvard College, has deemed that the few pipelines created for students of color, but especially Black and Brown students, are no longer necessary.

Chief Justice John Roberts stated in the majority opinion that “permitting ‘past societal discrimination’ to ‘serve as the basis for rigid racial preferences would be to open the door to competing claims for ‘remedial relief ’ for every disadvantaged group.” 

The cognitive dissonance that exists within the predominantly conservative court, especially considering that there have been only four people of color to serve in its history, is nothing short of a national shame.

It is shameful that the Asian American individuals that were involved in the case were led to believe that the reason for not getting into their school of choice is that other students of color are the problem, and not the countless legacy positions granted admission because their family donated a student center. 

It is shameful to consider how this decision will only further prevent students of color from advancing their academic career and beyond.

The social capital that is granted to affluent white individuals is the greatest gift that comes in addition to having ancestry from Europe. The exclusivity of higher education that comes with generations of networks and connections is a privilege which will take decades for people of color to achieve a fraction of the same.

After the Supreme Court decision, three civil rights groups filed a complaint against Harvard claiming its preferential policy for undergraduate applicants with family ties to the elite school, known as legacy admission, overwhelmingly benefits white students.

Even so, I speak from my own positions of privilege, being a third-generation college graduate. Having resources available to me, some as simple as having family members who are knowledgeable of the admissions process, are ones I have taken for granted.

Despite being a recent graduate of a Hispanic-serving institution, my journey in higher education began elsewhere, at a private university in Northern California. 

The predominately-white institution was my first glance at life outside of the safety of my cultural upbringing. As I was dealing with the culture shock of seeing very few who looked like me, I noticed that many classmates were not putting forth the same effort in their studies. 

[These were] students who not only had a smug approach to their classes, as if they knew they were going to be bailed out, but [who] were clueless in any intellectual conversation. I looked around and thought, “These can’t be the best of the best.”

It wasn’t until I learned that some of my peers shared a last name with a dorm building or academic hall that I realized some students were not there based on their academic merits. In fact, many didn’t even want to be there, but were merely completing a stepping stone before returning to a life free of wondering when the next opportunity will come.

All this to say, my experience is not uncommon, and to be witness to the disparities of privilege that exist in academia, all while trying to prove to everyone (including myself) that I belonged in that space, was a constant frustration I was not prepared for.

My thoughts turn to the experience of the two women of color who sit on the Supreme Court, Justices Kentaji Brown Jackson and Sonia Sotomayor. Both are women whose academic and professional accomplishments reflect the perseverance and tenacity that people of color are required to develop. 

I wonder how many times, if at all, did they feel like they didn’t belong, but more so, how did they feel knowing they had to do twice as much to be in the same room as individuals who were merely born into it.

Delivering the dissenting opinion, Justice Sotomayor said, “At bottom, the six unelected members of today’s majority upend the status quo based on their policy preferences about what race in America should be like, but is not, and their preferences for a veneer of colorblindness in a society where race has always mattered and continues to matter in fact and in law.”

Case in point: If American society truly reflected the colorblind values it so vehemently claims to uphold, that individuals are judged by the content of their character and not the color of their skin, the need for affirmative action in universities and diversity initiatives in the workplace wouldn’t exist in the first place. 

Our reality, however, sadly requires people of color to seize any opportunity that is available to them, to get ahead in a world that is always stacked against them.

If I sound bitter, it’s because I am. I am not so much angry that these barriers are created to further keep people of color behind. That’s something that I’ve learned to accept because of my experience. I am more angry that people dare to question any attempt to conquer these barriers.

Yes, I am more than a diversity hire, but if my only opportunity to prove that I am more than just the token Brown girl is by being admitted or hired as the token Brown girl, I don’t have the luxury of turning it down.