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Connecticut reacts as Supreme Court strikes down affirmative action in college admissions

FILE: Supporters march during a rally in support affirmative action policies outside the Supreme Court in Washington, D.C. on October 31, 2022.
The Washington Post
FILE: Supporters march during a rally in support affirmative action policies outside the Supreme Court in Washington, D.C. on October 31, 2022.

The Supreme Court on Thursday struck down affirmative action in college admissions, declaring race cannot be a factor. The decision now forces institutions of higher education to look for new ways to achieve diverse student bodies.

The court overturned admissions plans at Harvard and the University of North Carolina, the nation’s oldest private and public colleges, respectively.

The vote was 6-3 in the North Carolina case and 6-2 in the Harvard case. The two programs violate the Constitution’s equal protection clause, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote for a conservative majority.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote in dissent that the decision “rolls back decades of precedent and momentous progress.”

An amicus brief filed by Yale couldn't sway the court's opinion

Yale University had joined a group of elite colleges in filing a brief with the court last year, arguing diversity enhances higher education.

Yale University President Peter Salovey said he was "deeply troubled" by the court's decision.

Maya Ingram, who just graduated from Yale, said Thursday that the decision felt like other recent Supreme Court decisions.

"It's reminiscent of this time last year when Roe v. Wade was overturned," Ingram said. "I think it's just really scary how much power the Supreme Court has. And now with the conservative majority, I'm worried about them overturning these landmark decisions of the past.”

The same group that sued Harvard, brought a similar lawsuit against Yale. The legal action against Yale had been put on hold until the Supreme Court made the decision that was issued today.

Salovey said despite his "strong disagreement" with the ruling, he'd abide by it.

"I am committed to the rule of law," Salovey said in a statement, noting he will work with school leaders to ensure Yale's admissions policies "comply with the law as interpreted by the Supreme Court."

Aman Fikre, a junior at Yale, said he was "really disheartened" to see the court's decision and that diverse student environments are "beneficial for everyone involved."

But supporters of the court decision have argued that colleges and universities can use other, race-neutral ways to assemble a diverse student body, including by focusing on socioeconomic status and eliminating the preference for children of alumni and major donors.

Lived experiences of applicants can still play a role in admissions, higher ed leaders say

The high court’s decision now has universities and colleges in Connecticut and other parts of the country looking for new ways to achieve diverse student bodies.

Matt Hyde, the dean of admissions at Trinity College, said the court's decision doesn’t mean students should stop talking about their lived experiences on their college applications.

“What they decide to share with us in an application and how they share it is up to them," Hyde said. "The unknown is what can we do with that information and how can we allow that to inform the choices that we make in our admissions committee.”

UConn President Radenka Maric said in a letter to students and faculty that the class of 2026 is the most diverse in the history of UConn: 47% are students of color, and nearly 27% are from backgrounds historically underrepresented in higher education.

"This is not by accident, and it is not an anomaly," she wrote. "Prior to this year’s first-year students, the classes of 2024, 2023, and 2022 were successively the most diverse in university history."

She said only time will allow the school to understand the full impact of the decision and the "most effective strategies to mitigate it."

Michael Roth, president of Wesleyan University, said while the court prohibits the use of race in admissions, it does allow for colleges to pay attention to the lived experiences of its applicants.

“We’ll still learn about students' experiences that will sometimes include their experiences as members of racial groups," Roth said. "I think in the end, we will be able to create a diverse campus environment."

"But the court’s insistence that race neutrality or colorblindness is the only way to do that seems misguided."

CSCU leader cites demographic drops in other states that ended affirmative action

Terrence Cheng, chancellor of the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities (CSCU) system, which serves more than 72,000 students, called the ruling "alarming for all of us in higher education."

"Chiefly because race-conscious admissions are by far the most effective means of increasing diversity at selective schools," Cheng said, in a statement.

He cited the end of affirmative action in higher education in California, saying it lead to a steep drop in minority enrollment in the states' leading public universities. Similar drops were also observed in Michigan, Washington state, and elsewhere.

"Despite more than two decades of intensive and expensive efforts, the UC [University of California] system continues to be less diverse than the state’s demographic makeup. Unfortunately, we can expect similar results at selective institutions in Connecticut," Cheng said.

Supreme Court's action breaks with prior decisions in support of affirmative action

The Supreme Court had twice upheld race-conscious college admissions programs in the past 20 years, including as recently as 2016.

But that was before the three appointees of former President Donald Trump joined the court. At arguments in late October, all six conservative justices expressed doubts about the practice, which had been upheld under Supreme Court decisions reaching back to 1978.

Lower courts also had upheld the programs at both UNC and Harvard, rejecting claims that the schools discriminated against white and Asian American applicants.

The college admissions disputes are among several high-profile cases focused on race in America, and were weighed by the conservative-dominated, but most diverse court ever. Among the nine justices are four women, two Black people and a Latina.

This story has been updated. Connecticut Public's Lesley Cosme Torres, Matt Dwyer, Ashad Hajela, Patrick Skahill and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

Correction: An earlier version of this story misspelled the last name of a Yale student. It is Aman Fikre, not Firke.

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