Affirmative Apprehension

On June 29, the U.S. Supreme Court banned affirmative action in a 6-3 decision, terminating race-conscious admissions in higher education. The court concluded that affirmative action ​​violated the 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause. This decision has sparked controversy and questions regarding the application process.
Affirmative Apprehension
Timeline: 5 key events about affirmative action in United States colleges and higher education

This in-depth package was edited by Sahana Unni

1978: In Regents of University of California v. Bakke, the Supreme Court ruled a university’s use of racial quotas unconstitutional but that accepting more minority students with affirmative action could be constitutional. 

1996: Hopwood v. Texas banned race-conscious admissions, financial aid considerations and recruiting policies in public and private institutions. In the same year, California voters approved Proposition 209, which ended state affirmative action programs. 

2003: Following two lawsuits that challenged the University of Michigan, the court ruled in favor of the university, allowing it to still consider race as a factor in applications.

2014: After the majority of Michigan voters argued against affirmative action, the Supreme Court upheld the ban of affirmative action in higher education, adding that state voters should have the right to decide.

2016: A white student at the University of Texas at Austin said she was unfairly rejected from the school in 2008. However, a federal court ruled in favor of keeping race-conscious admissions. The Supreme Court sent the case back to the lower court, and still, the high court upheld affirmative action at the university by a close vote of 4-3. 

2023: The Supreme Court ruled against affirmative action at Harvard and the University of North Carolina, prohibiting public and private colleges from considering race in admissions decisions.

Students debate ruling
Students debate ruling

For some Black students the Supreme Court decision to end affirmative action in college admissions was disappointing but not surprising. Although senior Katie Williams had anticipated the ruling for two years, she said the finality of the decision feels restrictive as she now must find other ways to incorporate her racial identity in her applications. However, for some of her peers, the termination of affirmative action is perceived in a more positive light. 

As Lab is closely connected to a top university, there is a stark difference in how U-High students view the end of affirmative action in college admissions depending on their racial identity and political stances.

Some students, like senior Robert Groves, who identifies as white, believe that ending affirmative action in the college admissions process is a welcome change. 

“I think overall it’s a complex issue, but it was probably the best thing,” Robert said. “When you start to consider factors like race and gender, there’s less of an emphasis on merit and things you can control.”

Others, like senior Leila Battiste, who identifies as Black, strongly disagree with the decision because of the decrease in diversity it may cause within college campuses.

“Many people think that affirmative action is favoritism,” Leila said, “but the system is meant to increase and sustain races and all minority groups at the most disadvantage. The system has, and never will, favor POC and minority groups.”

Some students don’t find the issue quite as straightforward. Junior Jack Colyer, who identifies as white, disagrees with the ruling but also believes it may benefit his application.  

“I mean being realistic, it might help my chances at college,” Jack said. “That being said, I don’t think it was necessarily the right thing to do. I mean, I think it hurt more people than it helped because the people it helped are generally going to get into somewhere anyway, so it doesn’t really matter. It’s more hurting the people who don’t have those opportunities.”

Regardless of their opinions about this decision, students wonder what this really means for the college admissions process in the coming years and their own applications.  

Katie said, “There’s just, like, an unknown future of how that impacts us and our future.”

Expert input: Law professor explains case
Expert input: Law professor explains case

University of Chicago Law School Professor Geoffrey R. Stone, a former dean, explained what the end of affirmative action means for students entering the college application process in the following interview. As law school dean, he witnessed the effects of affirmative action on the university. Professor Stone’s responses were lightly edited for length, clarity and style. 

How does the decision impact the college admissions process?

“The decision says that it is impermissible for a college or university to explicitly take race into account in making admissions decisions. In the past, an institution could take into account race as one of the factors to create diversity and to address past discrimination when looking at its application group. And now, they cannot do that.”

How does the decision impact the application process for students?

“In the essay portion of the application, you can certainly talk about whatever your background is, whether it’s a woman or a gay or male, Black or white or Hispanic or whatever. And you can talk about that in the context of the essays. And particularly, if you’re from a group that is disadvantaged, you can talk about how you’ve dealt with that. And the college or university will be aware of that information. The difference is, applications cannot be discussed on the basis of race, but on the basis of the character of the individual and how their race has affected their experiences.” 

How can students include race in applications?

“One thing they can do in theory is, since [admission officers] can take character and experience into account, then, they can say that Black applicants have had a much more difficult time in our society, and therefore, they will likely to be the beneficiaries of giving credit to people who’ve had to overcome those difficulties. Not literally because you’re Black, but because with the stories they tell in their applications. So there is some ambiguity in the decision.”

What implications will large institutions witness as a result of the decision?

“As has been the case in states which themselves have abolished and prohibited affirmative action, like say, California, there has been a significant decline in the number of Black students at these law schools, many major universities. And the negative effect that has had, I think, is both in terms of the experience of the students at those institutions and in terms of the disadvantage imposed upon the progress of Black citizens in our society.”

Will there be a decrease in diversity in higher education?

Unless they can find ways to circumvent the decision. You know, one thing they can do in theory is, since they can take character and experience into account, then they can of course say that Black applicants have had a much more difficult time in our society, and therefore, they will likely to be the beneficiaries of giving credit to people who’ve had to overcome those difficulties. Not literally because you’re Black, but because with the stories they tell in their applications. So there is some ambiguity about the extent to which they can do that. But it’s not going to be the same as it is today.

Vox Pop: Affrimative Action reactions

How has the Supreme Court’s affirmative action decision impacted which schools you apply to? Have you decided to change any part of your application because of this decision?

“They’re still going to be able to figure out what race I am, and who I am. So I’ll just try to leverage that, and turn it into the best opportunity for me, which will probably be a lot harder now that affirmative action is gone.”

— Myles Cobb

“My ethnicity is an important aspect of my identity and I think that because that factor is being taken out of consideration for colleges, it leaves out part of who I am and how I present myself to future opportunities. In my college essay especially, the important events in my life root from significant racial and cultural values, so it’s been difficult to decide how to best represent myself when race isn’t a factor.”

— Diana Chavez

“To be honest, I was kind of banking on affirmative action on all my applications because I’m mixed. I’m half Argentine, half Korean. I’m pretty sure Asian countries, like both east and south, are not helped by the decision. I’m pretty sure Latino benefits a lot. So, it made me a little nervous finding out about the decision.”

— Dante Vairus

“I’ve considered whether I should add my race and ethnicity because I think it is still an option on the application, but I am kind of confused on why it is when they are saying that they are trying to not consider that at all for people and make it kind of blind.” 

— Sofia Niedaszkowski

“I feel like I haven’t done enough research on it, personally. I feel like it may discourage me a little bit in terms of the scale of schools I would apply to, but it hasn’t really affected my plans for school that much.”

— Ross Wilson

“Yeah I think [the decision on Affirmative Action] has made a whole difference on the application process. I think it’s a step in the right direction and I’ll be interested to see how it affects my applications. I haven’t considered it fully yet but I’ll definitely take it into consideration when I look at where I am applying.”

— Sohail Sajdeh

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About the Contributors
Audrey Park, Editor-in-Chief
Audrey Park is a member of the Class of 2024 and serves as an editor-in-chief. She began writing for the Midway in the 2020-21 school year when she was in ninth grade. Her favorite story she has written is about University of Chicago nurses seeking solutions for the uninsured. She loves journalism because of its ability to represent and reflect multiple perspectives. Audrey also enjoys reading, traveling and playing card games. Awards: 2024 Scholastic Press Association of Chicago, special coverage: (with Clare McRoberts and Sahana Unni) superior 2024 Scholastic Press Association of Chicago, general feature Story: excellent 2024 Columbia Scholastic Press Association Gold Circle Award: First place, sidebar writing, “Affirmative Apprehension — Expert input: Law professor explains case” 2023 Journalism Education Association National Student Media Contests, San Francisco convention: Honorable mention, online package 2023 Scholastic Press Association of Chicago, news story: excellent 2022 Journalism Education Association National Student Media Contests, St. Louis convention: Honorable mention, editorial writing 2022 Columbia Scholastic Press Association Gold Circle Award: First place, sidebar writing, “Misinformation solutions rely on regulation, media literacy”
Sahana Unni, Editor-in-Chief
Sahana Unni is a member of the Class of 2024 and serves as an editor-in-chief. She began journalism as a ninth grader in the 2020-21 school year and has since appreciated the exposure to different ideas and perspectives. Her favorite story she has written is about the Jane Collective, a group of women who provided safe abortions before the procedure was legalized in the early 1970s. Outside of journalism, Sahana enjoys creative writing and reading, while also serving as an editor-in-chief of the Renaissance literary magazine and a captain of the Mock Trial team.
Awards: 2024 Scholastic Press Association of Chicago, special coverage: (with Audrey Park and Clare McRoberts) superior 2024 Columbia Scholastic Press Association Gold Circle Award: First place, personal opinion: on-campus issues, "New auditorium name at odds with values" 2024 Columbia Scholastic Press Association Gold Circle Award: Second place (with Zara Siddique), photo layout: full page (Page 3) 2024 Columbia Scholastic Press Association Gold Circle Award: Certificate of merit, news feature, “Dazzling drag city” 2023 Journalism Education Association National Student Media Contests, San Francisco convention: Honorable mention, online package 2022 Columbia Scholastic Press Association Gold Circle Award: Cultural feature, certificate of merit, "‘Bridgerton’ effectively represents Indian culture" 2022 Journalism Education Association National Student Media Contests, St. Louis convention: Honorable mention, feature writing 2020 National Scholastic Press Association Fall Best of Show: Sixth Place, Election Reporting (contributor), “As trailblazer for multiple identities, Harris inspires students”
Light Dohrn, Assistant Editor
Light Dohrn is a member of the Class of 2026 and a Midway assistant editor. As a ninth grader, she joined the journalism team during the 2022-23 school year. Her favorite piece she has written for the Midway is “Through authenticity and humor, biology teacher inspires passion among students.” Outside of journalism, she enjoys Middle-Earth fantasy books and Tarantino films. Awards: 2023 Journalism Education Association National Student Media Contests, Boston convention: Excellent, review writing 2023 Journalism Education Association National Student Media Contests, San Francisco convention: Honorable mention, press law and ethics
Haley Maharry, Reporter
Haley Maharry is a member of the Class of 2024, and serves as a reporter. Her favorite piece she has done is an audio story called “Fencing team members find new opportunity in fencing P.E. elective.” Outside of journalism, Haley listens to horror podcasts and acts in U-High's theater.
Milo Platz-Walker, Reporter
Milo Platz-Walker is a member of the Class of 2025 and serves as a reporter. He joined the staff as a ninth grader in 2021 and returned as a junior. Outside of journalism, Milo competes in karate, listens to music and spends time with friends and family.
Eliza Dearing, Artist
Eliza Dearing is a member of the Class of 2024 and is an artist for the U-High Midway. Awards: 2024 Scholastic Press Association of Chicago, original editorial cartoon, drawing or comic: superior 2024 Columbia Scholastic Press Association Gold Circle Award: Second place, art/illustration: hand-drawn, “Affirmative Apprehension”

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