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‘A Gut Punch’: Harvard Students Condemn Supreme Court Decision Striking Down Affirmative Action

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Harvard students widely condemned the Supreme Court’s decision on Thursday to sharply restrict the consideration of race in college admissions, expressing fear and sadness that the ruling is likely to reduce racial diversity at the school.

Harvard has defended its admissions process against a lawsuit from Students for Fair Admissions, an anti-affirmative action group, since 2014. Thursday’s ruling upended longstanding college admissions practices and is expected to change the makeup of future classes — reducing the number of Black, Latinx, and Native American students — at universities across the country.

“Even though we knew based on the conservative makeup of the [court] that this is probably how it was gonna go, I think it was absolutely shocking because it goes against 45 years of established precedent on affirmative action,” Muskaan Arshad ’25 said. “It was absolutely shocking, devastating, a gut punch.”

Affirmative action policies in higher education, long a contentious issue in the United States, are viewed unfavorably among Americans broadly. Ahead of the Court’s decision, a Pew Research Center poll published June 8 found that 50 percent of U.S. adults disapprove of the practice while 33 percent approve of it.

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Among Harvard students, however, affirmative action policies are immensely popular. The Crimson’s Class of 2023 Senior Survey found that 63 percent of respondents in the graduating class supported affirmative action, while just 15 percent opposed it.

SFFA has long argued the elimination of affirmative action would make college admissions more equitable. But in interviews following SFFA’s victory Thursday, Harvard students said they believe the ruling will do the opposite.

“Considering race doesn’t make the system unfair — it corrects for the historic and present conditions which often make it difficult for top universities to recognize and admit racially diverse talent, while simultaneously increasing inclusion and diversity in higher education,” incoming freshman Justin Black ’27 wrote in an emailed statement. “I believe not considering race as one of many factors makes the system unfair.”

“This case isn't really just about getting into Harvard. It's about building a more equitable and fair and diverse future and unfortunately, that was ruled against,” Rebecca S. Zhang ’26 said in an interview.

Black said a race-blind approach to admissions would ignore Harvard’s long history of being a white-only institution, as well as the lasting impacts of systemic racial discrimination, which “resulted in worse socioeconomic conditions for students of color, impacting the strength of their application.”

Leah Yeshitila ’26 said she feels “sad” to see what she feels is a “misuse of the equal protection clause from the Brown v. Board of Education case” to overturn affirmative action.

“Race neutral is the new separate but equal, because it lacks so much support in recent historical context,” Yeshitila said. “It allows for the various racial inequities that already exist to continue existing, and that is racism. Not addressing racism is racism.”

Reflecting on her Asian American heritage, Isabella Q. Cao ’26 said she finds it “disheartening” to see Asian Americans pitted against other minority groups as the victims of affirmative action.

“Lumping all Asians together and saying that Asians are all academically successful, or that there's this model minority, I feel like, first of all, it's very dismissive towards the struggles that some Asian communities have faced,” Cao said.

Students also lamented the damaging effects of a potential drop in racial diversity in higher education institutions.

Having grown up in a predominantly white community in Arkansas, Arshad said she fears the decision will “completely change the makeup of our university” by restricting the diversity that has had a positive impact on her college experience.

“I would wear lighter foundations and hide my culture and not even talk to other brown people,” Arshad said, referring to her hometown in Arkansas. “Because this is such a homogenous white space, I was like I need to fit in, I need to forget about my identity.”

“Coming over to such a diverse environment, I was allowed to be myself, I can really change the way I viewed myself, how I viewed my culture, my identity as an Asian American brown woman,“ she added. “It completely changed my life.”

Nuriel R. Vera-DeGraff ’26 highlighted the likely impact the ruling will have on the racial makeup of the professional workforce, as graduate schools “will suffer a lot in terms of their diversity.”

“Having less breadth in Black and brown lawyers and judges will make it much harder to progress towards racial equity on the legal side,” Vera-DeGraff said. “On the healthcare side, I think having less black and brown doctors and nurses will exacerbate the already horrible inequities.”

—Staff writer Natalie K Bandura can be reached at natalie.bandura@thecrimson.com.

—Staff writer Adelaide E. Parker can be reached at adelaide.parker@thecrimson.com.

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