On June 29, the Supreme Court held that the practice of race-based affirmative action in the admissions offices at Harvard and the University of North Carolina was unconstitutional.
Admissions offices—including Bowdoin’s—are no longer considered by the Court to have a sufficiently “compelling interest” in creating a diverse student body to allow distinctions based on race in decisions about acceptance.
In an email to the community, former President Clayton Rose expressed his disappointment with the decision and noted its dire implications for diversity and equity on campuses across the nation.
“[President-elect Safa Zaki and I] share the view that today’s decision undermines the essential work to create an educational environment and experience that prepares students for the diverse worlds of work and of informed political and social engagement,” Rose wrote.
We strongly oppose the Supreme Court’s elimination of race-based affirmative action and agree with Rose and Zaki that this ruling will hinder the College’s efforts to build a diverse student body. We urge the College to work within the confines of the law to forge a path forward in this new legal landscape.
Eliminating race-based affirmative action in admissions has historically had a substantial effect on student body demographics. After a ballot measure ended race-based affirmative action at the University of Michigan, the Black and Native American student populations decreased by 44 and 90 percent, respectively. A similar measure affecting the University of California (UC) system led to a more than 50 percent drop in “freshmen enrollees from underrepresented minority groups … at UC’s most selective campuses.”
The Court’s ruling is particularly influential at more selective colleges and universities, such as Bowdoin, where the acceptance rate was just 7.7 percent for the Class of 2027. At these institutions, decreases in diversity without race-based affirmative action have measured as large as 40 percent.
As of fall 2022, students of color comprised just over 33 percent of Bowdoin’s student body. The end of race-based affirmative action leads us to fear for the future of racial representation at Bowdoin.
We believe Bowdoin has a responsibility to prioritize creating opportunities for people of color. As a liberal arts institution, Bowdoin is committed to providing students with a well-rounded education—crucial to this education is diversity of thought, which is fostered by racial diversity. We fear that the Court’s decision has jeopardized these ends.
Chief Justice John Roberts’s majority opinion leaves open the possibility that colleges could consider adding supplemental essays to their application that ask students to reflect on their demographic backgrounds. However, this is an imperfect solution that places an unfair burden on students of color to divulge their marginalization in a way they may find uncomfortable or even traumatizing.
We wish we had the answers, and we understand that the College is struggling for answers, too. In the wake of a ruling that we feel undermines the principles of a liberal arts education, we hope the College works toward becoming a more diverse, equitable and vibrant place where students of all backgrounds and identities can not just exist, but thrive.
This editorial represents the majority opinion of the Editorial Board, which is composed of Andrew Cohen, Sara Coughlin, Emma Kilbride, Aleena Nasruddin, Talia Traskos-Hart, Sam Pausman and Juliana Vandermark.