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Supreme Court Decision on Michigan Affirmative Action Ban Is Divisive, Ignores Key Issues

Released: 22-Apr-2014 1:00 PM EDT
Source Newsroom: Cornell University
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The U.S. Supreme Court today handed down a decision that upheld Michigan’s ban on using race as a factor in admissions to that state’s public universities. Two Cornell University experts are available to discuss the implications of this decision.

Noliwe Rooks is a human rights expert and associate professor in the Department of Africana Studies at the Cornell University College of Arts and Sciences.

Rooks says:
“If we are actually going to have a colorblind system of government and educational access it has to work both ways – and not just function to protect and enhance the educational advantages that some whites enjoy because of their race while dismissing, minimizing and ridiculing the ways that our society both intentionally and unintentionally raises the bar for educational access for blacks and Latinos.

“For example, lost in the firestorm is the fact that, of the 27,000-plus undergraduates presently enrolled at the University of Michigan, only 4.7 percent are black. This is a pitiful, small number and supporters of the Affirmative Action ban seem to be suggesting that over 95 percent of the slots available at the school just won't do. They want the rest as well.

“While no one wants whites to be oppressed, we also would do well to pay some mind to all of the ways that black and Latino students face structural impediments to their even making it onto college campuses. Whites simply do not face the same hurdles.

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Travis Gosa is an expert on race relations and assistant professor of Africana Studies and social science in the College of Arts and Sciences at Cornell University.

Gosa says:
“The Supreme Court’s decision on Tuesday is a victory for white supremacy. By upholding Michigan’s ban on the use of race as a factor in college admissions, the court is allowing voters in eight states to ‘Jim Crow’ higher education, that is, to make college a privilege available only to whites and the wealthy.

“Recent attempts to dismantle affirmative action have little to do with fairness or so-called ‘colorblindness.’ Rather, these bans are a veiled attempt to ensure that racial minorities are the only group of students who cannot seek preferences in school admissions. If voters in anti-affirmative action states want fairness, they might start by challenging legacy preferences for the children of alumni and wealthy donors.

“Race-neutral college admissions ignore the racial privilege of white Americans who benefited from generations of black disadvantages, such as blacks being locked out of the G.I. Bill. If and when voters in more states ban race as a factor in college admissions, expect minority student enrollments to plummet and racial tensions to increase.”

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