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Why affirmative action benefits all Americans

From the President

Rip Rapson

Ric DeVore

Ric DeVore

Angelique Power

Angelique Power

Darren Walker

Darren Walker

This joint opinion editorial by the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan President Ric DeVore, The Skillman Foundation President and CEO Angelique Power, The Kresge Foundation President and CEO Rip Rapson and Ford Foundation President Darren Walker was originally published in The Detroit News. It is reprinted here with permission. 

As leaders of foundations committed to the pursuit of a truly equal and inclusive society, we are greatly concerned about the recent decision made by the United States Supreme Court to ban colleges and universities from considering race in their admissions processes.

In doing so, we risk creating homogenous learning environments that do not adequately reflect the diverse tapestry of our society or prepare young people to thrive within it. The pursuit of diversity is not about compromising merit but rather about leveling the playing field and growing our country’s collective prosperity and well-being.

If Black, Latino/Hispanic and Native students have less access to the best colleges, they will have less access to wealth and power, even as our country continues to become more diverse.

Let’s face it. It isn’t a fair ball game if some are starting at third base. Pretending it is fair doesn’t make it so. It just invalidates the entire sport. The Supreme Court’s decision asks us all to accept a story of our country that is untrue and reinforces a narrative that every child has the same opportunity for success.

Those of us who work in foundations are inundated with evidence that proves this theory not only wrong, but foolish. For example, Advanced Placement courses prepare young people for the rigors of college, but Black and Latino students have less access to them.

A 2020 report from The Education Trust found that Black students make up 15% of high schoolers in the U.S., but only 9% are enrolled in at least one AP class. For Latino students, who make up a quarter of high schoolers, only 21% are enrolled in AP courses.

The truth is that students of certain races, of certain poverty levels, of certain disabilities, all have the deck stacked against them. Acknowledging this isn’t acknowledging defeat — it’s delivering a clear-eyed analysis of reality that allows for clear-eyed solutions on how to tackle the issue.

Within the education system, decades of research shows that students educated among diverse peers develop stronger analytical thinking, creativity, communication and collaboration skills. The kind of skills essential for our economy and our democracy.

This goes double for outside of our education systems. Studies continually show that workplace outcomes, board rooms, health results and neighborhoods are more productive when diversity is considered and celebrated. Not ignored and stifled.

When you put a stranglehold on who gets opportunity, our communities, workplaces, democracy and humanity withers. Refusing to acknowledge race doesn’t make the design of racism disappear. It makes it take hold even stronger.

As foundations rooted in the beautiful racial richness of America, we will remain steadfast in our collective mission to create a more equitable nation within the bounds of the law. To forge ahead, we will continue to advocate for the human dignity of all people with renewed vigor and commitment — not regardless of their race, gender, ethnicity, religion or country of origin, but in full-throated support of these attributes as positive considerations to take into account.

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 and beyond.