Supreme Court decision in UNC admissions case elicits strong reactions

Saturday, July 1, 2023
Supreme Court decision in UNC admissions case elicits strong reactions
Reactions are pouring in shortly after the United States Supreme Court issued a ruling limiting the use of race in college admissions.

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (WTVD) -- Reactions are pouring in shortly after the United States Supreme Court issued a ruling limiting the use of race in college admissions.

The conservative majoritycourt ruled along party lines that admissions processes at UNC and Harvard both violated the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment. Chief Justice Roberts said that race could still be part of the admissions process but it had to only be one factor among many considered.

The decision has set off a chain of reactions from across the political spectrum.

"I'm just going to have to work that much harder than everybody else," said Alex Clayton.

At 15 years old, Alex has his sights set on one day being a student at UNC-Chapel Hill. Both he and his mother, Alana Gary, are in town from Atlanta for a soccer tournament. They are visiting the campus. With the Supreme Court ruling, she now has concerns for her son.

"They call it the Black Tax. Because you are a minority, you are looked at as less than and you have to perform better than what is considered normal," said Gary. "It's scary."

"This is a global campus. If you don't have diversity of thought, you don't have anything. You need to be open to all viewpoints. Helps you become a better citizen," said Brook Fitts, a soon-to-be Chapel Hill Law student.

Some are rejoicing. Alsey Hopkins is a senior at North Carolina State University. He applied to UNC-Chapel Hill and said he believes he didn't get accepted because of affirmative action.

"This country, if it wants to function as a multicultural nation as it is today, needs to treat people equally and look at people's merits rather than their skin color," Hopkins said.

A current student and UNC and Duke said she was "disappointed but not surprised" in the ruling. She said the decision would mean that prospective Black students will have to write about and use their trauma for admissions offices to consider them.

"If I were applying to college today, I would have to write about those traumas and those very hard experiences for admissions officers to accept the overwhelming truth that we all know, which is that it is hard to be a Black person in America," Bunmi Omisore said.

Bunmi Omisore, a student at Duke University, and Alex Shieh, a prospective student at Brown University, react to the Supreme Court decision to gut affirmative action.

North Carolina Central University Law professor Irving Joyner said he believes there will be major implications to this ruling and it will shut down underprivileged groups.

"White women, African American women, African Americans, in general, are now going to be placed in a pool where their presence is being sought after," he said.

Joyner said this ruling could bring a boost to HBCU enrollment.

"They are looking for the talent that they bring. They don't have to take their talents all the way over the PWIs in order to become the best they can be," said Joyner.

UNC's Chancellor Kevin M. Guskiewicz said the university will remain committed to having a diverse student body.

"Carolina remains firmly committed to bringing together talented students with different perspectives and life experiences and continues to make an affordable, high-quality education accessible to the people of North Carolina and beyond. While not the outcome we hoped for, we will carefully review the Supreme Court's decision and take any steps necessary to comply with the law."

UNC System President Peter Hans issued a similar statement.

"We are closely reviewing today's decision and will follow the law. Our public universities do extraordinary work every day to serve students of all backgrounds, beliefs, income levels and life experiences. Every student in North Carolina should know that the UNC System welcomes their talent and ambition. The most important work of higher education is not in deciding how to allocate limited admissions slots at highly competitive schools, but in reaching and encouraging more students to take advantage of our 16 remarkable public universities."

Gov. Roy Cooper issued a statement expressing his disappointment with the decision.

"This decision undermines decades of progress made across the country to reduce systemic discrimination and promote diversity on campuses which is an important part of a quality education. Campus leaders will now have to work even harder to ensure that North Carolinians of all backgrounds are represented in higher education and to ensure strong, diverse student bodies at our colleges and universities to train the next generation of leaders for North Carolina and the nation."

NC Congresswoman Virginia Fox, Chairwoman of the House Education and Workforce Committee applauded the decision.

"Today's decision by the Supreme Court is a welcome victory for countless students across the country - academia's ivory towers should not divide and promote preferences based on the color of one's skin. In America, fairness is the key to educational opportunity, where one's success is judged by merit rather than arbitrary quotas. Postsecondary education has been plagued by affirmative action for far too long, and I'm pleased that the Supreme Court has finally upheld the equal protection of students. Fairness and merit will finally receive the due deference they deserve. Congress can build on this decision by the Supreme Court to craft solutions that build on the idea of fairness to ensure that all students, regardless of their financial background or life circumstances, have access to high-quality postsecondary education options."

"It's a lot of pressure," said Dr. LaWanda Simpkins, the founder of Creative Justice, who consults with colleges and universities across the country about their diversity and equity initiatives.

Simpkins believes the historic supreme court ruling to exclude race as a factor in college admissions just made an already difficult job even more challenging.

"We're taking this big decision and we're placing it on people who are now on the front line of essentially, having the pressure to make sure that a college campus is diverse," said Simpkins.

The nation's highest court determined students must be treated based on their experiences as an individual not based on their race.

In the court's decision, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote nothing prohibits universities from considering an applicant's discussion of how race affected the applicant's life.

Dr. Simpkins argues experiences alone won't guarantee an inclusive campus.

"This two-to-three-page essay, they are really supposed to tell their life, and it's also making assumptions about people's lives, it's making an assumption that those things are going to be connected to someone's race, and we really don't know," she said.

Dr. William Darity an African American studies professor at Duke University has served as the Director of Graduate Studies at UNC.

"I'm not sure how many institutions have been deeply concerned about the loss of affirmative action. And I'm not sure how many of them have subsequently come up with strategies to try to ensure that they are not engaged in renewed discrimination against black students," said Dr. Darity.

He said the justices' decision will expose one thing.

"I think that those institutions that have a genuine commitment to greater inclusion will find ways to do it," Darity said.

And student-led groups like UNC's Affirmative Action Coalition are working with their admissions departments to make sure it happens.

"We're really hoping that our admissions department keeps that in mind and continues to be able to consider race, even if it's not just a checkbox," said Adela Zhang. She's part of the student-led group that was formed to show support for Affirmative Action.

The organization is disappointed in the court's decision but pushing ahead

"We're not here to stand still, we're going to fight this as much as we can, we're defiant. And we're honestly hopeful. And we're gonna stand in solidarity with on-campus organizations, as well as other schools across the nation, our own admissions department in order to make sure that we can make this as equal and as equitable as possible," said Zhang.

Could the ruling have a domino effect?

UNC Affirmative Action Coalition vows to continue to push for diversity on college campuses. The possible domino effect of the ruling is unknown at this time.

WATCH: ABC11 speaks with NC Attorney whose father helped desegregate universities in the state

Floyd McKissick Jr.'s father was the lead plaintiff in the case that desegregated the university system in our state when he applied for admission to law school at UNC Chapel Hill,