College Skirts Affirmative Action Ban With Essay Prompt Asking Applicants How SCOTUS Ruling Impacts Them

[Reuters/Jonathan Ernst]

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A private New York college added an essay prompt to its website asking applicants to describe how the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down affirmative action will impact their college education goals.

The essay prompt, one of three options listed for first-year applicants on Sarah Lawrence College’s website, asks students to describe how their college education goals “might be impacted, influenced, or affected by the Court’s decision.” The Supreme Court struck down universities’ use of racial preferences in the admissions process late June, finding such programs violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

“In a 2023 majority decision of the Supreme Court of the United States, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote, ‘Nothing prohibits universities from considering an applicant’s discussion of how race affected the applicant’s life, so long as that discussion is concretely tied to a quality of character or unique ability that the particular applicant can contribute to the university,'” the essay prompt states. “Drawing upon examples from your life, a quality of your character, and/or a unique ability you possess, describe how you believe your goals for a college education might be impacted, influenced, or affected by the Court’s decision.”

Falguni Smith, Sarah Lawrence College’s director of communications, told the Daily Caller News Foundation the prompt is “not intended to set any expectation that an applicant should feel the need to relive past traumas or injustices in order to gain admission to the college.”

“We developed the newest prompt to reflect on two key elements of our learning community: first, that we ask our students to take on tough questions and challenging topics head-on, with intellectual rigor and thoughtfulness; and, second, that as a community that values diversity and equity in education as part of its mission, the current national conversations around race are of the utmost importance to us,” Smith said.

The college put out a statement after the Supreme Court’s decision explaining that it “remains committed to the importance of a diverse community and to a holistic admissions process,” despite the “significant yet unknowable” impact of the ruling.

“The admissions team at Sarah Lawrence College has never relied solely on one single factor when admitting students, and we will continue to ensure that we are recruiting and enrolling as diverse a class as possible in support of our mission, which remains unchanged: to graduate world citizens who are diverse in every definition of the word, who take intellectual and creative risks, who cross disciplinary boundaries, and who are able to sustain exceptional academic discipline within a framework of humanistic values and concern for community,” the statement read. (RELATED: Universities Consider New Rankings To Skirt SCOTUS Ruling On Race-Based Admissions)

Harvard also highlighted the section of Roberts’ majority opinion that stated colleges may still consider “an applicant’s discussion of how race affected his or her life” in an email to its community the day of the ruling.

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC) announced early July that it will offer free tuition and fees for some in-state undergraduates in response to the decision.

Some universities are also considering implementing “adversity scores,” with at least 20 requesting more information on the University of California (UC) Davis School of Medicine’s socioeconomic disadvantage scale (S.E.D.), which weighs aspects of students’ socioeconomic backgrounds.

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