Temple U. panel explores impact of Supreme Court’s affirmative action decision
‘There is going to be a drop off at the undergraduate level and at the graduate level because as good as race-neutral measures are, they simply are not a replacement for race-conscious,’ an administrator said
Temple University in Philadelphia (Image via Temple University)
By Chanel Hill
PHILADELPHIA — A panel of Temple University administrators gathered virtually to lead a discussion on the impact of the Supreme Court’s affirmative action ruling.
The administrators explored the Supreme Court’s decision and what it means for higher education moving forward during a webinar held Thursday by Temple’s Center for Anti-Racism, the Beasley School of Law and the Office of Undergraduate Admissions.
Valerie Harrison, Temple’s vice president for diversity, equity and inclusion, was the moderator of the discussion.
The event comes after the Supreme Court struck down affirmative action in college admissions last month. The ruling declared race cannot be a factor, forcing institutions of higher education to look for new ways to achieve diverse student bodies.
“Many legal observers felt as though the death knell was coming, in part because the court has been eroding this process over time,” said Timothy Welbeck, Temple’s director of the Center for Anti-Racism.
“Affirmative action has been a policy to give qualified applicants from marginalized communities an opportunity and they were historically denied,” he said. “What we’ve seen over time is this policy has been eroded and it’s been chipped away against.
“We’ve lost sight of the original goal because of that, but ultimately, it was about giving qualified applicants who were historically denied an opportunity,” Welbeck added.
The ruling on affirmative action has renewed calls for elite institutions to eliminate legacy admissions — or granting advantages to the children of people who attended.
Lawyers for Civil Rights, a nonprofit based in Boston, recently filed a lawsuit against Harvard University saying legacy admissions at the university discriminates against students of color by giving an unfair boost to the children of alumni.
Welbeck said the conversations around legacy admissions doesn’t address the problem or offer solutions.
“We need an ability to target the centuries of exclusion of Black people in America and we need to not be afraid to call it what it is,” Welbeck said.
“I think some of these conversations have been revolving around a timidness to talk about the actual problem itself and to deal with the fact that there were specific harms done to specific people groups and we need specific remedies in order to do that,” he said.
“We need to give those remedies time to work. We can’t give these remedies a fraction of the time of the harm and then expect them to undo all the harm that was done,” Welbeck added.
Donald Harris, Temple’s associate dean for academic affairs at the Beasley School of Law, believes the Supreme Court ruling will also affect graduate and professional students.
“There is going to be a drop off at the undergraduate level and at the graduate level because as good as race-neutral measures are, they simply are not a replacement for race-conscious,” Harris said.
“What it means for those particular students means there’s going to be more isolation, a loss of sense of belonging and perhaps some stigmatism,” he said. “I also think society in general is going to be harmed.
“We know from businesses, law firms and corporations how they value diversity and bringing different perspectives and experiences to the table changes things,” Harris added. “Losing this, I think, is going to be significant. We’re going to have to do things to ensure that we get back to where we are now.”
He said the ruling could also bring additional litigation in other areas.
“We’re going to have plenty of litigation about what the opinion allows schools to do and what it does not allow,” Harris said.
“I do worry that people will interpret this much more broadly than being limited to institutions of higher education and admissions policy that considers race. We might see it in the employment context. I do think there will be litigation trying to stretch this decision.”
At Temple, the incoming class for 2023-2024 will be 56% students of color. Nearly 19.4% of the university’s first year undergraduate students in fall 2022 identified as African American. Hispanic students represented 11.5% and Asian students represented 13.6%, according to Harrison.
Jose Aviles, Temple’s vice provost for enrollment management, said the university will continue to build on the areas where they’ve found success.
“Building a diverse class in college admission is focused on relationship building and shaping aspiration,” Aviles said. “It’s also important to recognize that you cannot be an elite academic environment without being truly diverse.
“For Temple, that means spending more time in the community and in middle schools,” he said. “Doing more pipeline building programs on a larger scale. Building those relationships and honoring the communities that have so much talent, promise and potential.”
In the Supreme Court ruling, Chief Justice John Roberts warned institutions not to use personal statements as a backdoor way to simply ask students about their race.
Aviles encouraged students crafting essays for college to be intentional in terms of how they write those statements.
“Think about how race and identity has played a role in your lived experience in ways that might have created both challenges and opportunities,” he said.
Chanel Hill is a reporter for the Philadelphia Tribune, where this story first appeared.
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