By Jason Strickler

The US Supreme Court decided last month to essentially overrule the Grutter v Bollinger Case of 2003, which allowed race to play a vital role in the student admission process in higher education. The recent ruling was decided on the basis that Asian American students were being discriminated against during the admission process at Harvard. According to page three of the Petition of Writ of Certiorari presented on February 5, 2021, “Harvard’s mistreatment of Asian-American applicants is appalling. Harvard penalizes them because, according to its admissions office, they lack leadership and confidence and are less likable and kind.” This ruling is not only a slippery slope for college admissions nationwide but it can potentially impact education’s equity and diversity initiatives intra-institutionally. The preservation of affirmative action may be a means for promoting fairness, inclusion, and diversity in education but in California, a state where affirmative action is prohibited, we must recognize the importance of this ruling as it affects society’s psyche.

Historically, affirmative action policies were created to level the playing field, creating more access to jobs and education for the disadvantaged and underrepresented groups. I recently took part in a meeting, where members of the community shared their stories on how affirmative action affected their lives. Many of them shared how affirmative action changed their lives for the better. But the main topic of the meeting wasn’t just reminiscing on how affirmative action policies were helpful, but how we, as the Latino-educated community, move forward and support students currently enrolled in college and safeguard our accomplishments as scholars and leaders.

“Universities are on our side,” said Dr. Jose Hernandez, California State University Northridge Professor Emeritus of Chicana and Chicano Studies. Dr. Hernandez stated in a hoarse and authoritative voice, “Don’t get discouraged at the current opposition to affirmative action. There is a silver lining to this decision. Colleges and universities want minority students on their campuses.”

62% of all bachelor’s degrees granted to California’s Hispanic students come from the CSU system. In the UC system, over half (53 percent) of entering first-generation students in fall 2021 are from underrepresented groups. California is a state that prohibits preferential treatment based on race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin. Yet, the numbers show that Latinos are still thriving in higher education.

How do we support students already enrolled in colleges or high school seniors who have fear or feel threatened after the court decision? As the uncertainty continues to grow, we must reach out to students by any means, educate them on the realities of this decision, and encourage them to support Chicana/o Studies departments and their literature. Encouraging and supporting students to write strong personal statements that describe the realities of minorities is essential. Through an understanding and practice of activism and advocacy, students can empower their peers and inspire one another to continue their education and press for hiring more Latina and Latino professors, staff, and administrators who can relate to them. As a community, we must stand firm. Irene Tovar, a Latin American Civic Association founding member, said, “Don’t be fooled by the facade of inclusion.” Where there is progress, there will always be ones who oppose it.

UC, CSU, private colleges, and some 1700 other institutions nationwide do not require high school seniors to submit SAT or ACT scores when applying for college admission. More schools are looking for students with experience in community engagement, extra-curricular activities, and strong personal statements. This is an opportunity for communities to grow and become more united, supportive, and involved in creating a better future for themselves and future generations. Furthermore, we must encourage merit as a community value. In place of SAT or ACT scores, qualified students in California in the top 9% of high school graduates are guaranteed space at a UC campus.

Additionally, high school students can earn credits for free at any community college. On top of that, all CSUs offer a transfer admission guarantee for community college graduates, and seven UCs participate in this transfer admission program. However, it is limited to specific majors, and each campus has different grade requirements; this is an opportunity that students can take advantage of.

I want to highlight a link between poverty and education level. The American Association of Community Colleges reports that nearly one-quarter (24.7%) of people ages 25 and older without a high school diploma are in poverty, whereas only 4% of people with at least a bachelor’s degree are in poverty. To reiterate, we must support students in any way we can.

Moving forward is not easy; we must address misinformation on this decision, assess the impact on the psyche of students and parents, and be vigilant about how California’s officials respond. This decision made headlines due to the institution’s prestige. Yet, Harvard and UNC are predominantly white in demographic makeup, with Asians making up the second largest represented group. The decision by the supreme court only affects these institutions; however, it may also influence admission procedures in the states these institutions reside.

This decision also doesn’t affect the curriculum or cultural/ ethnic student groups and clubs. I encourage people to read Stephanie Saul’s article in the LA Times and the many articles in the Washington Post to inform their opinion, staying away from social media fear-mongering that perpetuates mistrust and fear. Contact and encourage college students to continue studying. To the parents, know that you are not alone. To the state officials, we are listening to the people’s concerns. We speak for the historically disenfranchised, first-generation college students and those we share this ongoing fight with.

To conclude, this decision is just another futile attempt at shattering our nation’s faith in education, government, and each other. The Supreme Court may have overturned Grutter v Bollinger. Still, states like California are a testament to the success of Latina and Latino scholars. A decision of this magnitude increases the doubt of minorities in America, and it is of utmost importance that we encourage the merit of our students and support them along their journey in higher education by any means. I want to encourage everyone to take an interest in building community, engaging civically, and upholding merit and empowerment in creating a more just society moving forward from affirmative action policies and creating an equitable society for everyone.

Jason Strickler is a writer, advocate, and social entrepreneur from the San Fernando Valley. He is the Prevention/ Project Coordinator at Pueblo y Salud and a graduate student at Pepperdine University earning a master’s degree in Social Entrepreneurship and Change. Strickler writes about culture, education, and local politics.