Several civil rights advocates from various organizations took part in a conference call Oct. 10, just five days ahead of the Students for Fair Admissions Inc. vs. Harvard affirmative action trial, to discuss the importance of diversity and inclusion in higher education.
The speakers also discussed the threats this case poses to efforts to expand opportunity in higher education.
Speaking during the call were The Leadership Conference Education Fund managing director for field and member services Anjali Thakur-Mittal, Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund attorney Adam Fernandez, NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund Inc. senior counsel Rachel M. Kleinman, Janelle Wong, a professor of the Asian American Studies at the University of Maryland; and Asian Americans Advancing Justice Los Angeles chapter supervising attorney Nicole Ochi.
Thakur-Mittal kicked off the conference by explaining how the lawsuit “poses a fundamental threat to opportunity for millions of young people. It jeopardizes the right of every college and university to build diverse student bodies.”
The Leadership Conference Education Fund field and member services managing director added that it also “threatens efforts to ensure that people of color who were previously excluded through custom and law have the opportunity to attend college.”
“Equal opportunity and affirmative action policies at universities are supported by a broad cross-section of American society and, as the Supreme Court has found, have benefits that extend to all students in our colleges and universities,” she said.
Ochi noted how Asian American students “absolutely benefit from race-conscious admissions.”
“Affirmative action is still needed to ensure our community can access and benefit from higher education,” she said. “The fact is that Asian Americans are being used as a cover for a nefarious quest to dismantle affirmative action.”
Asian Americans Advancing Justice fights every day to end racism against Asian Americans and other people of color, Ochi stressed, adding that “we know that ending the inclusionary consideration of race will worsen, rather than improve, Asian Americans' ability to get into their colleges of choice.”
Wong noted that the holistic review system in place now does not allot extra or bonus points based on race.
“Nor does checking off a box ever translate into automatic admission,” she added. “Rather, with holistic review, students can provide admissions officers with more information about the box they checked, using essays and letters to convey how racial identity gives meaning to their lives.”
Fernandez said that, to ensure America’s future leaders are as educated as they are diverse, “America needs efforts like affirmative action to challenge the effects of biased admissions criteria, unequal K-12 educational opportunity, and the continuing effects of implicit bias.”
The MALDEF attorney added that “race conscious admissions are settled by constitutional law. They are precedent upon precedent upon precedent; Edward Blum’s cynical challenge will fail like so many challenges before it.”
Kleinman noted that race is an integral part of any person’s identity and suppressing it from something as important as a college admissions process is a disservice to both the students applying and the schools.
“Students’ ability to reach their academic potential and thrive in the multicultural workforce is on the line with this SFFA lawsuit and we hope that the Massachusetts federal court and the court of opinion affirm what we know to be true: that colleges and universities can and must consider race as part of its admissions policies to build a diverse and inclusive student body,” she said.
The Students for Fair Admissions v. Harvard trial, which Thakur-Mittal said is expected to last about a month, is scheduled to begin Oct. 15 in a Massachusetts district court.
“It is the latest in a series of assaults on affirmative action and equal opportunity that have thus far failed to eliminate the policy,” Thakur-Mittal said.