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Examining Students for Fair Admissions, Inc. v. President and Fellows of Harvard College and Students for Fair Admissions v. University of North Carolina Through a Social Class

In the fall of 2022, Students for Fair Admissions, Inc. (SFFA) brought two cases before the Supreme Court intending to overturn affirmative action in the college admissions process. In the first case, Students for Fair Admissions, Inc. v. President and Fellows of Harvard College, the petitioner, SFFA, filed a complaint against the President and Fellows of Harvard College. The complaint alleged that Harvard’s admissions process violates Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by discriminating against Asian American applicants in favor of white applicants. In response, Harvard claimed that it adheres to the guidelines surrounding race as a deciding factor as outlined in Grutter v. Bollinger.

The details of the Grutter v. Bollinger cases are as follows. In 1997, Barbara Grutter applied to the University of Michigan Law School. However, despite her more than adequate credentials, she was ultimately denied admission. In Grutter v. Bollinger, Michigan Law admitted that it used race as a factor in its admissions process since it serves a “compelling interest in achieving diversity among its student body.” Ultimately, in a 5–4, decision the Supreme Court decided that the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause does not prohibit the consideration of race in admissions decisions “to further a compelling interest in obtaining the educational benefits that flow from a diverse student body.” The Court noted that there could’ve been other factors that played into the rejection apart from race.

A similar argument has been made in the second case brought before the Supreme Court: Students for Fair Admissions Inc. v. University of North Carolina. The petitioner, again SFFA, filed a complaint against the respondent, the University of North Carolina. The complaint argues that North Carolina’s admissions process violates the Fourteenth Amendment by using race as a factor in admissions decisions. However, the school claims that race is only one of many factors used in their admissions process. North Carolina uses similar arguments as Harvard in stating that their admissions processes follow the requirements established in Grutter v. Bollinger (Oyez, 2023). These two cases are currently still before the Supreme Court and awaiting a final decision.

Overturning this admissions practice fails to recognize the unequal educational opportunities, such as disparate access to preparatory and private schools or access to tutors and SAT preparation, that pave the way for some students toward college. These disparities widen the “Opportunity Gap,” which, according to Close the Gap, a nonprofit dedicated to closing the opportunity gap, is “the way that uncontrollable life factors like race, language, economic, and family situations can contribute to lower rates of success in educational achievement, career prospects, and other life aspirations.” This failure to recognize unequal educational opportunities, and subsequent widening of the Opportunity Gap, will further perpetuate a homogeneity on our campus while diminishing diversity. 

If we aren’t recognizing different pathways to college, then how do we expect to foster a diverse community from all walks of life? As an institution with 20 percent of our student body coming from families who are in the top one percent of income (eighth in the nation among “Elite Colleges”), how can we ensure that we are celebrating the socioeconomic diversity of our students and not heading down a path towards a homogenous socioeconomic student body? Additionally, how can we as an institution recognize the generational wealth and how it factors into our admissions process? How do we address factoring into admissions whether an applicant is a legacy student but continue to disregard the blatant unequal educational opportunities? The admittance of students as legacies reinforces generational wealth, which is a very large indicator of not only the students’ economic standing but also the social networks and educational advantages that have supported them in their journey to the College


Ryan Doolin `24, Clay Korpi `24, Deviyani Patel `25, and Kaleigh Quinn `25 

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