Don’t let the SCOTUS decision distract from the importance of diversity

Via FIU Flickr.

PantherNOW Editorial Board

Yesterday, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that affirmative action violates the U.S. Constitution in the case of Harvard and the University of North Carolina’s admission policies. 

In practice, this will reverse and rewrite the authority that public and private universities have in ensuring their student bodies are diverse and that among qualified applicants, students were selected in such a way as to correct past injustices in higher education. 

Regardless of the ruling, protecting diversity on campus and serving their communities must be a priority for universities – particularly institutions like FIU. 

It’s a difficult topic to grapple with. On one side, critics of affirmative action argue that the practice can be, in and of itself, racially discriminatory. 

Conversely, its proponents point out how it can correct decades of discrimination at universities within the framework of selecting who among qualified applicants will be accepted into an institution. 

In the majority ruling, SCOTUS writes that “The Court has permitted race-based college admissions only within the confines of narrow restrictions: such admissions programs must comply with strict scrutiny, may never use race as a stereotype or negative, and must—at some point—end.” 

Though this stricter interpretation of the law has its merits, Justice Ketanji Brown made a compelling argument on more practical grounds. 

“With let-them-eat-cake obliviousness, today, the majority pulls the ripcord and announces ‘colorblindness for all’ by legal fiat,” wrote Brown in the dissent. “But deeming race irrelevant in law does not make it so in life.” 

To be clear, our position as the nation’s largest Hispanic-serving institute is not the result of race-conscious admissions – rather, FIU is proud to be a reflection of the community it’s in and the people it serves in and out of academia.

Despite this, our diversity is a testament to the success universities can achieve by having a student body that includes people from all walks of life. 

However, we’ve seen our administration transition from cheering on FIU’s diversity to near silence on the matter.

The SCOTUS ruling, ideally, would in fact create more equality in college admissions. However, as Brown stated, it has the dire potential to eliminate a legal avenue for correcting a history of extra-legal discrimination in higher education. 

It will be a difficult challenge for universities and colleges across the nation – there’s no doubt about that. However, it’s also a wake-up call that schools need to stand by their conviction of retaining a diverse campus. 

If we’ve seen anything in Florida, it’s that the government does not always neatly align with the values of students and educators. In fact, some of the newest laws directly impede many of the goals held by institutions across the state.

Support from our politicians is critical to success in higher education – both in learning and in serving communities through research. However, the responsibility for success is not wholly incumbent on our legislators and executives.

Schools like FIU need to continue – and in some cases start – protecting and promoting inclusion and diversity with full zeal. Admissions is not the only arena to look at: recruitment, retainment, financial aid and post-graduation success are critical to the overall success of a university. 

In all of the above, it is entirely appropriate for a university to look at underserved students and provide them with resources based on equity – not just on-paper equality. 

It’s been said many different ways, but it’s a message that our own Board of Trustees and administration apparently needs to be reminded of: you don’t just answer to the Board of Governors and elected politicians.

Your job is to serve the students and faculty of the university you represent. We value diversity and we value the inclusion and equitable treatment of the students at FIU – you should too.

The SCOTUS decision shouldn’t make anyone in higher education throw their hands up and move on. Instead, it’s a reason to think innovatively and intentionally about how to serve the university community in as many ways as possible. 

Be the first to comment on "Don’t let the SCOTUS decision distract from the importance of diversity"

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.