By Darsh Mirchandani
Recently, Harvard University and the University of North Carolina have been embroiled in Supreme Court lawsuits regarding affirmative action. These two institutions will now face a trial in a conservative supermajority Supreme Court.
Affirmative action is a measure meant to allow historically disadvantaged groups greater access to higher education. For colleges, this means a student's socioeconomic background, such as race and income, is considered when reviewing applications. This allows colleges to evaluate applicants more holistically and increase access to prestigious schools for students that come from disadvantaged backgrounds.
Some students feel as if affirmative action is a necessary measure to even the playing field for college applicants, while others feel as if affirmative action is ineffective or discriminatory.
“I feel as if [race-based] affirmative action was an effective and necessary measure in the past,” junior Ethan Mehta said. “However, in recent times, I feel as if colleges should be taking income into account more so than race. The type of neighborhood and the background a student comes from is more relevant when it comes to the opportunities they had available to them. As an Indian, when applying to colleges, I am tempted to not disclose my race in order to prevent being dumped in a pile of other Asian applicants. It is time for colleges to create a new system to ensure equal access and to stop discriminating against Asian applicants.”
“I think that people who are opposed to affirmative action fail to realize that race does not have as much of an impact in admissions as they think,” senior David Ren said. “Most complaints against affirmative action are against highly selective top-20 colleges, but simply put, if you aren’t going to get in as one race, you more than likely aren’t going to get in as another. There are far more pervasive issues in college admissions including legacy students, feeder schools and unequal access to college counseling which I believe affect prospective students’ chances far more than affirmative action would.”
The lawsuits against Harvard and UNC were filed by Students for Fair Admissions, or SFFA. This group was founded by Edward Blum, who has previously spearheaded lawsuits relating to race-conscious admissions, with several of them reaching the Supreme Court. SFFA claims that these universities are discriminating against Asian American and White applicants. In the Harvard case, the plaintiff argues that Asian American applicants are held to subjective standards that set a cap on the number of Asian Americans admitted into a given class. For reference, 6.1% of Americans are Asian while Asian Americans made up 27.9% of Harvard’s admitted class of 2026.
Artwork by Saffah Azeem
Tensions regarding the ethics of affirmative action incite protests against Harvard and UNC's admissions screening process.
In the lawsuit against UNC, the plaintiff claims White and Asian American applicants are discriminated against because preferential treatment is given to other minorities. It is argued that qualified White and Asian applicants were denied admission in favor of less-qualified candidates from minority groups in order to promote diversity. Both universities claim that their use of race as a part of a multi-factor holistic review of candidates is legal and has been upheld in court many times before.
“There are far more pervasive issues in college admissions including legacy students, feeder schools, and unequal access to college counseling...”
In the past, the Supreme Court has upheld that affirmative action is not discriminatory in cases like the University of California vs. Bakke. It was determined that the university is allowed to consider race in admissions because of its emphasis on the educational advantages of a diverse class. The Supreme Court is expected to continue hearing the arguments and reach a verdict for Harvard and UNC’s trial until, at least, 2023.
“I can say that I have been very interested in all affirmative action cases that have been brought before the courts because each one provides different insights,” guidance counselor Mr. Gagnon said. “We [guidance counselors] will continue to strive to do our best as we further navigate the college process by putting and placing our students into the best possible environments, regardless of any academic application obstacles.”
Only time will tell if the precedent of affirmative action will be upheld by the Supreme Court. Some believe that the courts six to three conservative supermajority will vote in favor of Students for Fair Admissions, while others believe that the precedent will remain.