Affirmative Action Preserved (for Now)

Yesterday the Supreme Court decided to return Fisher v University of Texas to a lower court to further examine the university’s admissions policies to ensure that its use of race as one factor in a holistic process of admitting students was essential to achieving the diversity that contributes to an effective learning environment. Critics of affirmative action are pleased that strict scrutiny will be used to ensure that any use of race meets a high standard of fairness to individuals, while defenders of affirmative action take some solace that current practices consistent with previous Supreme Court decisions will be allowed to stand. At Wesleyan, we have long believed that race and ethnicity are factors that legitimately play roles in an admissions process that aims to create a diverse student body, and we also are mindful of using our financial aid to ensure that students with great ability but limited economic means (of whatever race and ethnicity) are given a chance at the kind of progressive liberal arts education we provide here.

Defining who deserves to be admitted to any particular university is notoriously difficult. Every year I meet people who attended elite Ivy League schools and who were rejected from Wesleyan. And I hear about Wesleyan admits who were rejected at schools that are supposed to be easier to get into. Each year we strive to put together a class that has enormous potential to learn in an open curriculum on a residential campus — a class that is exuberant about learning, eager to look at the world from a variety of perspectives and prepared to experience the creative and scholarly dimensions of university life. In most cases, the students admitted have great test scores and high grades, but in some cases those conventional measures do not adequately reflect the student’s real potential. That’s why our Admissions Office employs a holistic approach. We want students who will thrive¬† at Wesleyan, and we are lucky that they choose to come here from across the globe.

Race remains very relevant to the lives of students before they apply to Wesleyan, and that is one of the reasons we take it into account in admissions. To ignore race in contemporary America would be to perpetuate racist practices that still exist. But race is not our only measure of diversity. For now, we have the ability to use race among other factors in building campus diversity. We will continue to do so with all the scrutiny this sensitive area deserves.