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Rapson: College admissions affirmative action case won’t sway our dedication to equity

From the President, General Foundation News

The Supreme Court of the United States has just issued its decision in Students for Fair Admissions v. Harvard and Students for Fair Admissions v. the University of North Carolina, two cases bearing on the legality of race-conscious college admissions programs. Overturning comprehensive and exhaustive trial court decisions that found that both universities had complied with the Supreme Court precedent of permitting the consideration of race as one factor among many in evaluating an individual’s application for admission, the opinions are complex and will be dissected ad nauseum over the coming weeks.

Although brought within the framework of college admission practices, the cases are widely seen as heralding broader restrictions on the use of race as a factor in other forms of organizational and institutional decision-making – in hiring and promoting workers, making grants, entering into contracts, and potentially a great deal more. These are issues we all have reason to be concerned about – whether in the form of confusion, anger, anxiety, or otherwise.

There is already a chorus of voices calling attention to the alleged flaws in the majority’s legal analysis. From the Legal Defense Fund to the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights under the Law, from constitutional scholars to distinguished members of the bar, from the halls of Congress to the administrative machinery of colleges and universities, there will be no lack of grist for intellectual, political, and legal critique. I don’t propose to add to that here.

In all the sturm and drang, however, it is important to keep front of mind that interpretation and implementation of this new law of the land will take a long time – a very long time. Some of the effects may become apparent more quickly than others. But there is time and opportunity to reflect, deliberate, and act. Nobody, philanthropy included, should jump to conclusions about making major changes in how they work.

In that vein, there may emerge a temptation for philanthropy to anticipate political pressure or legal challenge by tempering its activities. Kresge will not engage in anticipatory self-censorship. We will instead assume that our behaviors are just and prudent until the point and time when we have been authoritatively disabused of that belief.

My intention is not to criticize the Court, but instead to remind us all that the mission of Kresge remains unequivocal and inviolate: to create the essential building blocks of opportunity and equity in American cities. We will not waver from that call.

Our nation’s recent history has entailed painful, arduous, exhausting, and recurring struggles to overcome the pervasive and obdurate structural barriers to advancing equity, opportunity, and justice for people of color and other marginalized communities. We have chosen to dedicate every ounce of our institutional equity to joining that struggle. That will not change.

So, tomorrow we resume our work with the same passion, commitment, skill, and resolve that has characterized our work for decades. We are in service to others. And they need more than ever our best thinking, our deepest engagement, our full resources, and our hearts. They will have it.

Kresge has joined our peers in denouncing the Supreme Court decision and has signed on to this philanthropic joint statement:

The Supreme Court’s decision impedes colleges and universities from selecting their own student bodies and fully addressing systemic racial inequalities that persist. The ruling threatens to return this nation to a time when education and opportunity were reserved for a privileged class. It endangers sixty years of multiracial movements to challenge our nation to live up to the ideals enshrined in our founding documents. The decision erects new barriers to building a society in which everyone has the opportunity to improve their lives, communities, health, and education.

Today’s ruling will make the vital work of building inclusive college campuses much harder. Experience has shown that substituting socioeconomic status as a proxy for race will not achieve the diversity that strengthens the fabric of all universities. Educators and communities dedicated to teaching and mentoring young people and adults from every imaginable background understand how all students—not just students of color—benefit from diverse racial and socioeconomic learning environments. Decades of research show that students educated with people from different backgrounds and experiences improve their analytical thinking, creativity, communication, and collaboration. These skills are essential to building our future workforce, our military, and a healthy democracy. In the realm of health, research shows that racially and ethnically representative medical schools produce better-trained physicians and care teams that reflect the communities they serve.

Universities and colleges and those organizations supporting them deserve the resources and support to continue their critical mission. They need our resolve, too. Philanthropies are vital partners in our nation’s progress. We will remain steadfast in our collective mission to create a more equitable nation within the bounds of the law. To forge ahead, we must continue to advocate for the human dignity of all people—regardless of their race, gender, ethnicity, religion, or country of origin—with renewed vigor and commitment.

Our nation’s future prosperity, vitality, and unity depend upon America becoming a true multiracial democracy—an aspiration that requires racial equity and diversity in higher education. Despite today’s ruling, our foundations will not waver in our commitment to those making the nation’s high ideals a reality for all communities and all people.