Should College Admissions be Race-Neutral?

3 mins read

By Ryan Ryu ’25

How would you feel if you were rejected from the college you’ve dreamed of attending because of your race? 

Students for Fair Admissions (SFFA) sued Harvard University and the University of North Carolina for their race-conscious admissions policy that limits overqualified students with a race to be accepted. 

SFFA is an organization that represents over 20,000 students and parents, of which the majority are Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders who allege that selective universities have rejected them due to their race. Many have even filed lawsuits against these universities. 

SFFA first sued Harvard in 2014, arguing that the college’s race-conscious admissions process violates the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits institutions that receive federal funds from discriminating “on the grounds of race, color, or national origin.” The group filed a similar suit against UNC, a public university. The US Supreme Court is poised to hear arguments in two closely watched cases on affirmative action in higher education. The US Supreme Court is widely expected to overturn the 1978 case that allowed racial diversity to become an organizing principle for college admissions. 

With college application season in action, the Gray Party discussed the constitutionality of affirmative action. Most students raised their voices during the highly interactive discussion to support race-neutral college admissions. Students who were pro-race-neutral claimed fairness. On the other hand, students who raised their voices in opposition to race-neutral college admissions claimed diversity. 

Gray Party Discussion Prompt: Should College Admissions be Race-Neutral? 

Here are some of the quotes from the discussion:

“Firstly, I would like to clarify that I absolutely believe diversity contributes to an organization’s or community’s capacity for participating in civil, nuanced political debate. However, I believe colleges should be race-neutral in their admission processes because I feel that diversity is far more than race. By implementing this race-based admissions policy, colleges fail to account for other elements of the applicants’ identities. In this way, the policy fails to achieve its initial goal. It also unfairly discriminates against Asian applicants and contributes to the harmful belief that race is the primary differentiating factor between American citizens; a pretense that only serves in dividing us.” -Matthew Neu, class of 2024. 

“I don’t think college admission should be race-neutral, at least not until there is equal educational opportunity across the nation. The opportunities a student receives at a Greenwich, Connecticut public high school will look a lot different than that of a student who goes to Tilden public high in Chicago, which lacks funding for social workers, psychologists, clinicians, and even new books for reading. One difference, however, that I doubt you will find between the two high schools is in the teens’ deservedness of receiving a higher education or college degree.” – Graham Ince, class of 2023. 

“I don’t think colleges should take race into account, especially if they are being funded by government money, because then it creates an unfair advantage for certain races as colleges will seek out certain races and not look for others. Although I think that if a college is completely privately funded, it should be up to their discretion as to whether or not they want to look at race. If you’re applying to private colleges, you as an applicant should know that they (colleges) will take race into account. But definitely, if any government money is funding a school, which is most schools, race should not be a factor.” – Jenny Macler, class of 2023. 

With its 6-3 conservative majority on the current Supreme Court, there are more than enough votes to achieve race neutrality in college admissions. Chief Justice John Roberts, the conservative who balked at overturning Roe, has rejected affirmative action before, writing in 2007 that “the way to get past racial discrimination is to get past racial discrimination.” Without his vote, two other harder-line conservatives would have to embrace affirmative action for it to survive by a 5-4 vote, which is unlikely. 

The lawsuits currently before the Supreme Court include one against the University of North Carolina and another against Harvard. In the UNC case, the Supreme Court can, and likely will, hold that the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment prohibits any use of race in admissions. 

In so holding, the court would also say that diversity no longer counts as a compelling state interest justifying the use of race. And in the Harvard case, the court is expected to hold that the anti-discrimination statute that covers private universities — called Title VI — also disallows any form of race-based affirmative action or the express pursuit of racial diversity.

Even using these lawful methods, the universities will certainly struggle to admit as many Black and Latino students as they currently do. Although admissions officers will still be able to consider economic and class markers, such as first-generation college status, those will not suffice to cover the racial gap because most people with financial struggles in the United Stated are White. More precise proxies, like ZIP codes, will likely be rejected by the courts as race-based affirmative action by another name.

The Supreme Court’s 2022 abortion decision triggered a national shockwave. This affirmative action decision is going to do the same. But is this for race neutrality or for a certain race? The question will remain. 

Photo courtsey Reuters

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