Push for fresh commitments on access after Supreme Court ruling

After court rejects racial preferences in admissions, biggest US civil rights group presses campuses for corrective pledges

七月 26, 2023
Black and white hands raised in protest
Source: iStock

The biggest and oldest US civil rights organisation, the NAACP, is pushing the nation’s selective colleges and universities for specific commitments to diversity after the Supreme Court ruled against racial preferences in admissions.

Actions sought under the proposed pledge include eliminating standardised admissions tests, expanding the recruitment of underrepresented students and faculty, and – in a step that not even all black-majority institutions support – ending legacy preferences in admissions.

The NAACP – the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People – was created in 1909 to advance the interests of African Americans, and it was promoting the pledge ahead of its annual conference as a direct response to the Supreme Court’s new conservative majority reversing decades of precedent allowing racial considerations in admissions.

Campus resource: How to tell if your university is making a genuine effort to increase diversity

“We just wanted every institution to know that they can achieve diversity in spite of the ruling,” said Ivory Toldson, a professor of counselling psychology at Howard University who serves as the NAACP’s director of education innovation and research.

The NAACP initiative may help identify degree of nationwide consensus – and, perhaps, ability – on how best to respond to the court’s decision.

Among the better-known struggles across the US, the state of California has forbidden the use of racial preferences since a public referendum on the question in 1996. Its top-tier University of California system has failed since then to match its admissions to the state’s 6 per cent overall share of black residents or even the 5 per cent share of black high school graduates. And the California system’s Latino enrolment is below 27 per cent, compared with nearly 56 per cent of the state’s high school seniors.

The only black chancellor in the system, Gary May of the University of California, Davis – with only a 4 per cent black enrolment – suggested to Times Higher Education that part of the problem is that “students with disadvantaged backgrounds have a lot of competition to overcome”.

Professor Toldson emphatically rejected that kind of assessment, saying that other US states have used strategies that include offering admission to the top tiers of students from their state’s high schools, and found success even with those admitted from low-income communities.

“I don’t buy it,” he told THE just ahead of the NAACP’s annual gathering in Boston. “I don’t believe that there is a valedictorian out there, no matter what school they went to, that would not cut it at UC Davis.”

The NAACP also is firm in its commitment to ending legacy admissions, Professor Toldson said, even though some historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) have indicated that they support maintaining alumni favouritism in the acceptances of their children because it gives the institutions badly needed help in fundraising.

Professor Toldson said legacy preferences may have made sense in some instances when racial preferences also were allowed. But now, in the aftermath of the Supreme Court ruling, he said, the NAACP is asking for all selective colleges and universities to end the practice.

“The conversation needs to be had, including with HBCUs,” he said. “And if we are going to have illegal race-conscious admissions, then we should not have legal legacy admissions.”

Institutions also need to be prodded to do more to help retain the minority students they enrol, Professor Toldson said. Many colleges and universities think they’ve got good retention strategies, he said, but actually aren’t making enough effort. “They may want some of those things to happen naturally, when you really do have to put resources toward it,” he said.




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