Virginia colleges pivot post-affirmative action decision

George Copeland Jr. | 7/6/2023, 6 p.m.
Colleges and universities in Virginia are adjusting in the wake of a supreme Court decision last week that ended affirmative …
People protest outside the Supreme Court in Washington on June 29. Days after the Supreme Court outlawed affirmative action in college admissions, activists say they will sue Harvard over its use of legacy preferences for children of alumni. Photo by Associated Press

Colleges and universities in Virginia are adjusting in the wake of a supreme Court decision last week that ended affirmative action in higher education.

The ruling, released last Thursday, declared the consideration of race in the college admissions process unconstitutional across two separate cases, with exceptions for military academies and the measured consideration of admission essays that mention the impact race has had on students’ lives.

In response, colleges throughout Central Virginia, including Virginia Commonwealth University, Virginia Union University, Reynolds Community College and Virginia State University have pledged their commitment to a diverse student body, regardless of the changes that may come to their admissions as a result of the ruling.

“We remain committed to cultivat- ing an inclusive, equitable and diverse campus community that empowers all students,” a statement by VUU officials read. “We have been doing this for nearly 160 years and will continue to do so, notwithstanding the recent decision regarding affirmative action from the Supreme Court.”

“Community colleges are a uniquely american invention,” Reynolds President Paula Pando said. “they are democracy’s colleges, created to broaden access to a post-secondary education. our mission remains unchanged.”

“Education is the greatest equalizer for marginalized populations for whom affirmative action laws were originally intended to uplift and protect,” VSU President Makola M. Abdullah said. “While we are a proponent of an HBCU education, we firmly believe that students should have a fair opportunity to attend the university of their choice.”

Virginia state and national officials also weighed in on the decision, with some promising action to ensure a diverse and equitable student body in the state’s universities. They were joined by various organizations, including the Virginia Education Association and the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation in denouncing the ruling and its potential impact, and calling for legislative action.

“We know that systematic exclusion has been a reality for some of our institutions in Virginia,” House Democratic Caucus Chair Charniele Herring said. “We are going to keep working to make sure that Virginia’s children have fair and equitable opportunities for an education and to accomplish their dreams.”

The details of how colleges and universities would need to adjust to effects of the Supreme Court ruling aren’t clear. While VUU and Reyn- olds appeared confident their admissions process would continue with little trouble, others such as VCU are currently reviewing the ruling and how it could affect the admissions process.

“We won’t know all of those answers right away,” VCU President Michael Rao said. “What we do know is that VCU remains committed to being the high-access, high-excellence institution that we have long been.”

Amy Jasper assists students who are applying to college as part of her job as the founder of My College Fit, an education consultancy. She believes that the need to attract a large number of students and other policies already in place will ensure that most colleges continue to follow the example set by affirmative action.

However, she also stressed the value of policies like affirmative action in the admissions process, as she believed its presence helped foster greater consideration of those trying to gain a college education with significant obstacles.

“No matter what types of things are in place at colleges,” Ms. Jasper said, “I still think there being an awareness of certain people perhaps being at a disadvantage is important.”

The ruling may lead to changes in Virginia education outside its colleges. The Pacific Legal Foundation, which filed a lawsuit in 2021 alleging discrimination against Asian-Americans at The Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology is seeking to have its case reconsidered by the Supreme Court later this year.

A federal ruling on the case last year that deemed the school’s admissions policy unconstitutional was reversed in the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in May.