The U.S. Supreme Court decision Thursday to establish new limits on affirmative action programs, essentially ending the consideration of race in college admissions, caused concern among fashion design school leaders.
In its ruling, the justices determined that Harvard and University of North Carolina’s admissions programs violated the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. An opinion written by Chief Justice John Roberts noted that at Harvard, each application is screened by a “first reader,” who assigns a numerical score in each of six categories: academic, extracurricular, athletic, school support, personal, and overall, and the first reader can and does consider the applicant’s race. Throughout the process, race is considered. “The goal of the process, according to Harvard’s director of admissions, is ensuring there is no “dramatic drop-off” in minority admissions from the prior class,“ the ruling read.
The Supreme Court’s vote was 6-3 in the UNC case and 6-2 in the Harvard case. Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, an undergrad and law school alum of Harvard, who had served on the board of overseers at Harvard, was recused from the Harvard case.
Design school leaders were concerned by the ruling.
Asked for comment, a School of Visual Arts spokeperson said, “Despite today’s SCOTUS decision, SVA is more committed than ever to fostering a diverse, equitable and inclusive community of artists.”
The New School’s president and university professor Dwight A. McBride posted that he was “deeply concerned by this decision, both personally and on behalf of our students —past, present, and future. I know that many of you share this concern.”
“It is difficult to overstate the impact this will have on campuses across the country. For decades, colleges have been able to use admissions as one tool to counteract the pervasive thread of discrimination and white supremacy woven into the fabric of our higher education system and, indeed, our society,” McBride continued. “The removal of this tool sends the dangerous message that a diverse learning environment is dispensable. I could not disagree more fervently. It is a mission we cannot afford to give up.”
Noting how next spring will mark the 70-year anniversary of the landmark decision of Brown vs. Board of Education, McBride said that he “like many of you,” is concerned about the dismissal by the nation’s highest court of the values of diversity and inclusion. “I am troubled by the recent pattern of Supreme Court decisions that have rolled back hard-won rights for racial minorities, women and the LGBTQ+ community. And I fear a return to an era that precedes the tremendous work activists have done to fight for these rights, particularly in education,“ he wrote.
Determined to “not let that happen,” The New School remains committed to inclusion and its belief that “a diverse student body is essential to a rich learning experience. Rather, this decision makes these commitments stronger, and the work all the more urgent.”
Core to those efforts is “a fundamental belief in the transformational power of education — and access to education — for individual lives and for the greater good of society. These beliefs have guided the work that I’ve been committed to throughout my career, and they will continue to guide all of us at The New School in our work to keep our university on a path toward greater equity,” McBride said.
Pratt Institute’s president Frances Bronet also expressed how she was “deeply disappointed” by the ruling and said the school’s community will stay true to founder Charles Pratt’s practice of welcoming “all regardless of race, gender or socio-economic status.”
“As artists, designers and innovators, we know that diversity fosters creativity. As educators, we believe that excellence requires all voices and positive change comes from the full range of human experiences. Providing opportunities and building pathways is critical to achieving a more equitable world and that begins with access to education. From the opening of our Saturday Art School in 1897 to the Design Works High School opening this fall, Pratt has encouraged diverse students to pursue a creative education and become changemakers in their communities,” Bronet wrote.
Going forward, Pratt will continue to review each student’s admission application “holistically,” Bronet said. “We seek to create a community that reflects and helps to shape the world we live in, informed by the variety of experiences, personal histories, viewpoints and aspirations of all. This goal will remain present in our admissions process, which has always taken into consideration the range of experiences and circumstances of all our applicants.”
There are also plans to review Pratt’s policies and practices to ensure commitments to diversity, equity and inclusion are upheld, “even as we work within the bounds of the law. Nothing can change our core values, who we are, what we believe in, and how we serve as catalysts for meaningful change,” Bronet stated.
Marist College’s president Kevin Weinman noted in an online post that “Marist has always and enthusiastically sought diversity in all its forms — race and ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, gender, age, socioeconomic status, political persuasion, and geography, among many others. We best achieve our mission by opening our doors to all who can take full advantage of the rigorous and high-touch form of education that we offer.”
“Let me be clear: every student Marist has ever admitted has earned their right to study here. In fact, as our student body has become more diverse in every way measurable, we’ve seen student quality increase across all dimensions.”
“We will continue to digest the scope and implications of this decision. For now, one thing holds true: we will not retreat from our mission of making a Marist education accessible to anyone who can succeed here, and we will continue to pursue these goals to the greatest degree within the confines of the law and judicial precedent,” Weinman wrote.