Race Matters Everywhere Else in America - Why Shouldn’t It Matter in College Admissions?

Today, the Supreme Court will hear the so-called affirmative action case, Fisher v. University of Texas.  The Court will decide whether or not the university’s use of race, as one of many factors in its admissions process, is constitutional. However, in order to even address the complex issue of race in admissions and the Equal Protection clause claims raised by the plaintiff, we have to acknowledge and to some extent, take part in the nonsensical, magical thinking that underlies the notion that race neutrality is somehow achieved by the discontinued use of race in admissions.  

This magical thinking is summed up by those opposed to affirmative action and supported by Chief Justice Roberts’ statement in a 2007 decision (Parents Involved) that the “way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.”  But with this country’s history and its current racial inequities, ignoring race and racism is not a race-neutral act.  Simply put, ignoring racism harms people of color.  Ending affirmative action will not end discrimination, it will entrench the racial inequality that stubbornly persists in our country.

We strive for a race neutral world, but right now we live in one that is persistently segregated.  Racial disparities persist in the criminal justice system, in the delivery of health care and in income levels. Our country is still one where we can identify the racial make-up of most schools, neighborhoods and board rooms.  And still, more than fifty years after the Court’s landmark decision in Brown v. Board of Education, one-third of black students attend schools with a 90% black population and those schools have fewer funds than those that are predominantly white.  These disparities will only change if we have diverse leaders in the future to enact policies to change them.  

The University of Texas and other public universities seek to enroll a diverse student body so that it can cultivate diverse leaders for its state and our nation. Without continued emphasis on diversity, the public universities of this country run the risk of becoming closed to many black and Latino students. There is no doubt that this will occur because it has already happened.  When the University of Texas discontinued the use of race in its admissions in 1997, the percentage of black and Latino students fell dramatically.  We see the consequences since the University of California system discontinued its use of race in admissions:  Black and Latino students are now dramatically underrepresented in the system when compared with their total population throughout the state.

The  critical question is whether we, as a society, want to permit that.  Public universities should be a stepping stone for all members of society, not just some. The case being heard today will impact universities throughout the country. Let’s hope that the Court will consider this case through the lens of the country that we are, and not the country that we want to be.  If that is done, Texas and other schools will be permitted to use race as one factor, among many, in the admissions process as we strive to achieve the still-elusive goal of racial equality.

The ACLU filed a friend of the court brief supporting Texas’ use of race in its admissions process. Read it here.

Learn more about affirmative action: Sign up for breaking news alerts, follow us on Twitter, and like us on Facebook.

Add a comment (7)
Read the Terms of Use


Does China or any other country that we compete with also allow "affirmative action" in their education system?

in answer to an...

Many countries have policies similar to affirmative action. Here are just a few examples. I hope it helps answer your question…
People's Republic of China: "Preferential policies" required some of the top positions in governments be distributed to ethnic minorities and women. Also, many universities are required by government to give preferred admissions to ethnic minorities.
South Korea: Admission to universities is also determined by the strict entrance exam, which is extremely competitive at the top level. But most of all Korean universities at the top level are adapting some affirmative actions in cases of Chinese ethnic minority, North Korean refugees, etc. in their recruiting new students. Besides, national universities have been pressed by the Korean government, so now they are trying to meet the governmental goal which is to recruit a proportion of female professors.
Japan: Admission to universities as well as all government positions (including teachers) are determined by the entrance exam, which is extremely competitive at the top level. It is illegal to include sex, ethnicity or other social background (but not nationality) in criteria; however, there are informal policies to provide employment and long term welfare (which is usually not available to general public) to Burakumin at municipality level.


To end race discrimination... we need to discriminate based on race?

Jeffrey Brown

Wow. I am glad I found this blog post. It reveals my failure to do my due diligence in deciding which activist organizations to support financially. Fortunately, I discovered my error before writing a check. I strongly support the ACLU's record when it comes to actual civil liberties issues - matters in which actions of the government are violating the rights of individuals. In this matter, the ACLU is advocating in favor of a public body's violating the 14th Amendment rights of individuals - the same rights they (and I) laud in Brown v. Board of Education (1954). The 14th Amendment is silent as to the race of those who may avail themselves of its protections. This was not a legislative oversight - it is central to the concept of equal protection.

Typically, I would present a well-reasoned argument in support of the position I advocate, but a blog author who finds an ad hominem remark appropriate to the discussion forfeits, in my book, that consideration.

Reading the Amicus brief filed by the ACLU in this matter, I am struck by how a sound (on its face) legal argument can be made from such a questionable real-world position.

I will continue advocating, with the ACLU, for issues on which we agree. Regardless, my anticipated donation to the ACLU has been divided and given to Amnesty International USA and Project VoteSmart. I cannot go so far in my support of the ACLU as to give money that could be used to advocate in the courts in FAVOR of ANY racial discrimination by government, including public educational institutions, against any person, regardless of who benefits from the discrimination.


You are both missing the point.
Students of color are more likely to come from disadvantaged backgrounds. They are more likely to attend schools that are underfunded (just compare Milwaukee Public Schools with their counterparts in nearby suburbs in terms of technology and buildings, to say nothing of classes.) They are more likely to rely on school meal programs. They are more likely to live in neighborhoods where people are shot out front of their houses (this happened to a friend). They are more likely to have parents who did not go to college. Comparing those students to peers from affluent neighborhoods, who had books in the house, who probably had smaller class sizes and better schools, is NOT fair because it ignores the disadvantages they had to face.

Oh, and the single most common type of "affirmative action"? Legacy admissions.


As an ACLU supporter and occasional volunteer over the years, I must disagree with the ACLU's decision in this particular case. Racism is a serious problem in this country, and the only appropriate alternative is individualism. A strict policy of individual merit at any college/university admissions office (as well as with employers) is the only solution to racism. Accountability and transparency must go hand in hand to ensure that people of one color, race, ethnicity, gender, etc. are not being chosen irrationally under the auspices of merit.

I must also note that there is a serious logical disconnect between racial makeup of K-12 public schools and racial makeup of universities. Students attending colleges and universities are principally adults; they make their own choice to attend college, choose where they wish to apply, and choose where they wish to attend. Children do not choose which public school they attend. It is chosen for them by bureaucrats and policymakers who decide which towns/localities attend which local schools. If there is to be a public school system, then it should be fixed, although I do believe that parents should also think responsibly before settling in a locality with poor schools or obvious problems with lack of diversity. I also believe that parents should increasingly avoid public schools altogether as the quality of education and the safety of the students is extremely poor.

In general, I stand proudly with you, but ACLU, equal protection of the laws means precisely what it says.

Carl H.

To the first poster ... why does it matter what China does to get a result? If it were found that corporal punishment improved test scores in China .... would we be looking to implement the same standard to compete? (It is a bad example I know but trying to prove a point.)

Sign Up for Breaking News