The Student News Site of Quinnipiac University

The Quinnipiac Chronicle

The Student News Site of Quinnipiac University

The Quinnipiac Chronicle

The Student News Site of Quinnipiac University

The Quinnipiac Chronicle

An overview of the Supreme Court’s ruling on affirmative action and what it could mean for Quinnipiac

Like many other U.S. colleges and universities, Quinnipiac University must review its admissions policies in the wake of the Supreme Court’s recent ruling on affirmative action, President Judy Olian announced via email June 29.

Here’s a look at the case and what it might mean for Quinnipiac.

What affirmative action means

In higher education, the term “affirmative action” generally applies to race-conscious college admissions processes that seek to promote campus diversity by increasing the number of students from historically underrepresented minority groups. 

In practice — and particularly at highly selective institutions — this often translates to admissions policies that consider an applicant’s race alongside other factors like their application essay, GPA and standardized testing scores.

An admissions trends survey conducted in fall 2018 by the National Association for College Admission Counseling revealed that nearly 25% of colleges considered race or ethnicity considerably or moderately influential in admissions decisions. 

Another 17% of schools considered race — as Quinnipiac had — limited but not entirely inconsequential in its influence on admissions decisions. The remaining 58% did not take race or ethnicity into account.

The case and why it matters

Students for Fair Admissions, a nonprofit anti-affirmative action organization, filed separate lawsuits against Harvard College and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2014 challenging the constitutionality of their race-conscious admissions policies.

Founded in 2014 with the sole purpose of litigating against affirmative action in college admissions, SFFA alleged in the cases that the admissions policies at Harvard and UNC discriminated against white and Asian American applicants.

Prior to reaching the Supreme Court, multiple lower courts rejected SFFA’s arguments and ruled in favor of the universities’ race-conscious admissions policies.

Nevertheless, in early 2022, the Supreme Court agreed to hear the Harvard and UNC affirmative action cases SFFA had lost. The court subsequently issued a 6-3 ruling in favor of SFFA on June 29, 2023.

The landmark decision striking down affirmative action in college admissions reversed two previous Supreme Court rulings — one from 1978 and another from 2003.

More than four decades earlier, the court ruled that colleges could not set quotas to determine the number of enrollees from underrepresented minority communities but held that colleges could consider race as one factor among many in admissions decisions. The court reaffirmed 25 years later that holistic race-conscious admissions policies were not unconstitutional. 

Even before the court issued its ruling in the Harvard and UNC cases, the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute reported June 21 that the Supreme Court’s approval rating among registered voters had hit a 19-year low amid multiple other unpopular rulings and several recent scandals.

Although the Supreme Court has overruled less than 1% of its cases in its 234-year history, the conservative-majority court struck down affirmative action barely a year after reversing another historic 50-year-old precedent — the right to abortion

What student diversity looks like at Quinnipiac right now — with affirmative action

Quinnipiac already has one of the least diverse student populations among the top 17 four-year universities in Connecticut, federal data published by the National Center for Education Statistics show.

In fall 2021, the most recent period for which federal data is available, nearly three-quarters of Quinnipiac’s student population was white. 

Meanwhile, students from underrepresented minority communities — individuals who identify as Black or African American, Latinx, Indigenous and Asian or Pacific Islander — comprised 18% of Quinnipiac’s student body. 

Students of two or more races, students whose race or ethnicity is unknown and non-citizen students comprised the remaining 9%.

Like at Quinnipiac, students from URM groups comprised approximately 18-19% of the student body at Sacred Heart University, Connecticut College and Trinity College in fall 2021.

However, only one Connecticut school — Fairfield University — had a lower percentage of underrepresented students at 12%.

By comparison, students from underrepresented backgrounds represented over 30% of the student population at 10 of the 17 Connecticut schools.

Quinnipiac has multiple outreach programs intended to recruit students, faculty and staff from underrepresented minority groups. 

However, the university’s March 2022 Sustainability Tracking, Assessment and Rating System report — which includes a diversity and affordability category — notes that Quinnipiac does not offer on-campus support services designed specifically for its community members from URM groups.

What Quinnipiac’s administration is doing

In her June 29 email to the Quinnipiac community, Olian wrote that university officials would “carefully evaluate” Quinnipiac’s practices to assess whether any adjustments are necessary.

“Our undergraduate admissions and financial aid processes do not use race as a criterion for admissions or award of financial aid,” Olian wrote. “We do use data and statistical analysis to determine if deliberate programs are needed to eradicate disparities that correlate with, and hinder the advancement of, race, ethnicity or gender.”

The extent to which the university employs affirmative action today remains unclear. John Morgan, associate vice president for public relations, declined to comment further on the use of affirmative action at Quinnipiac.

As recently as 2012, a Quinnipiac admissions official told the Chronicle that the university utilized a holistic admissions process that considered race in a limited capacity alongside other acceptance criteria. 

Although Olian neither directly applauded nor condemned the ruling, she pointed to evidence correlating diverse learning environments with educational enrichment and deeper cultural understanding.

“Our fervent aspiration is to continue to achieve the educational advantages of a diverse learning environment and the community well-being that is advanced in a culture of equity and inclusion,” Olian wrote. “Together, we must seek opportunities  within the law to continue championing the rightful place of diversity, equity and inclusion within our institution, and in our broader society.”

What Quinnipiac students are saying

In a statement to the Chronicle on July 4, Yealie Ulaba-Samura, president of Quinnipiac’s Black Student Union, described the court’s ruling on affirmative action as “truly devastating” for prospective Black college students.

“Our hearts break for all the young Black minds who have to work that much harder for the education they not only deserve, but are owed,” wrote Ulaba-Samura, a junior psychology major. “This ruling has the ability to decrease access to higher education, limit diversity and representation, reinforce systemic inequality, and negatively impact future career opportunities for students of color.”

Likewise, Amada Arroyo, vice president of the Indigenous Student Union a member of the Higuayagua Taíno Tribe, called the court’s ruling “a major setback in what is already slow progress.”

“When a ruling like this comes down, it sends a message that Indigenous voices and experiences are not valued or prioritized,” wrote Arroyo, a senior 3+1 biochemistry and molecular and cell biology double major. “It reinforces the barriers and obstacles that Indigenous students already face in higher education.”

The executive boards of both on-campus political organizations — the Quinnipiac University Democrats and the Quinnipiac University College Republicans — released statements pertaining to the Supreme Court’s affirmative action ruling on their respective Instagram accounts on July 1.

The Quinnipiac Democrats unequivocally condemned the court, criticizing its decision to eliminate “a time-honored tool that has helped to equalize the playing field for historically discriminated communities.”

“What the majority of the court fails to realize is that racial inequity and inequality are problems of our time, not simply vanquished struggles of a bygone era,” the Quinnipiac Democrats’ executive board wrote. “This court cannot will a colorblind society into existence, and instead, it harms all Americans seeking higher education at every turn it can.”

Nick Fizzano, a sophomore political science major and the president of the Quinnipiac Democrats, said he feared a decline in Quinnipiac’s student diversity in the aftermath of the affirmative action decision.

“Our big fear is, instead of moving in the right direction … we’ll actually start to backslide,” Fizzano said. “What we really want to see from the university is to ensure that they don’t let this ruling be something that lets them harm the diversity that we do have at Quinnipiac.”

By comparison, the Quinnipiac College Republicans voiced their support for the court and its landmark reversal of a nearly 50-year precedent.

“Affirmative action creates a focus on college acceptance for candidates based on the color of their skin rather than their achievements and character, which we find to be anti-American,” the organization’s executive board wrote in a statement posted to Instagram. “We stand by our belief that any individual, regardless of race, color, religion, sexual orientation, or any other immutable characteristic is capable of success in higher education in America.”

But, in the face of a Supreme Court decision with the potential to slash diversity at universities across America, several Quinnipiac students hypothesized about how to protect campus diversity in a country without affirmative action.

“I, along with countless, passionate student leaders at Quinnipiac, will serve as trailblazers, and not let it halt or hinder our progress and hard work of increasing DEI efforts within our community,” wrote Hallye Boughner, a junior nursing major and the vice president of BSU, in a statement to the Chronicle. “It is a devastating reality for our nation, but it will not be a reflection of our values as a community.” 

Arroyo, noting that the ruling had the power to fuel the Quinnipiac community toward meaningful change on campus, suggested that university officials invest in community outreach programs, curriculum reform, cultural diversity training and on-campus support services for underrepresented students.

“While this ruling is beyond disappointing, it serves as a stark reminder that our work at this university is far from over,” Arroyo wrote.

Shamara Wethington Mizell, the BSU’s event coordinator, further advocated for outreach programs catering specifically to local low-income high school students.

In Hamden, a town in which more than one-quarter of the total population in 2020 was Black, an estimated 10.3% of children under the age of 18 lived below the poverty line in 2021. 

The wealth disparity among Hamden families is stark — 2.7% of white families lived below the poverty line in 2021, but so did 5.5% of Asian families, 9.4% of Black families and 10.4% of Hispanic or Latinx families.

“As a leading institution, Quinnipiac can institute such a program,” wrote Wethington Mizell, a junior interdisciplinary studies major in the 4+1 masters at teaching program and a Hamden native. “In the wake of President Olian’s statement, it is crucial that Quinnipiac University tangibly prioritize inclusion and promote genuine diversity.”

What history tells us about what might come next

Nine states had already outlawed affirmative action in college admissions prior to the Supreme Court’s June 29 ruling. At several prominent universities across the country, bans on affirmative action elicited marked drops in student diversity.

Notably, when the state of California banned affirmative action in 1996, the percentage of first-year enrollees from underrepresented minority communities fell dramatically across the University of California school system. 

At UCLA, for instance, the implementation of race-neutral admissions practices cut the percentage of Black first-year enrollees in half within three years. Likewise, UC Berkeley saw Black and Latinx enrollment decline by more than 46% and 53%, respectively.

And, although the UC system has since poured more than $500 million into outreach programs, school administrators filed an amicus brief before the Supreme Court to assert that race-neutral admissions policies “may not be able to achieve the benefits of student body diversity.”

“UC’s race-neutral measures have not significantly increased enrollment of African American students,” UC’s 11 school chancellors wrote in the August 2022 brief filed in support of Harvard and UNC. “The proportion of African American freshmen at UC Berkeley (2.76%) and UCLA (5.98%) remained below their pre-Proposition 209 proportions (6.32% and 7.13%, respectively).” 

A 2006 Michigan ban on affirmative action in college admissions prompted a similar downturn in student diversity at University of Michigan schools, where the number of Black and Native American enrollees fell by 44% and 90%, respectively, after the ruling.

“U-M’s more-than-15-year-long experiment in race-neutral admissions helps to establish that racial diversity in student enrollment, and the compelling government interest in the resulting educational benefits, cannot be adequately realized at selective institutions without taking race into account as one factor among many in admissions decisions,” university officials wrote in a separate amicus brief filed in the case.

Leave a Comment
More to Discover
About the Contributors
Cat Murphy, News Editor
Peyton McKenzie, Creative Director

Comments (0)

All The Quinnipiac Chronicle Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *