Affirmative action. The discussion has changed dramatically since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in June on two critical cases involving Harvard University and the University of North Carolina, the impact of which will surely be felt by public universities and colleges here in New Jersey.
The court’s decision dealt with the consideration of race as one factor in higher-education admissions, but the rejection of the use of race in these cases has far-reaching implications. The conservative, right-leaning court did what it was expected to do, and the ruling’s effect will not be limited to barring the use of race as part of the admissions criteria to college; it will potentially impact affirmative action initiatives in corporations and organizations large and small.
Race-conscious criteria in college admissions had been used to create greater diversity and to address long-standing discrimination against people of color. Now that the Supreme Court has banned it, I believe deeply that every leader must be committed to creating greater diversity and inclusion in our organizations. How we go about that is going to have to change. Simply put, what’s next?
Let’s acknowledge that there is no perfect way to do this, but there is strong sentiment in favor of putting greater emphasis on socioeconomic factors in place of race. But what does that really mean and how would that work? There is a high correlation between socioeconomic status and race. So why not give more weight to socioeconomic status when it comes to competing for admission to college or a coveted job? Even without affirmative action as we know it, those who care about diversity and creating opportunities for disadvantaged and marginalized Americans still bear a responsibility to come up with a viable alternative.
If we are going to be honest, we must acknowledge that using race-conscious criteria has created some degree of white resentment. I’m not talking about resentment from right-wing, Trump-loving MAGA zealots, but rather from decent, common-sense, empathetic non-minorities who worry and wonder about future opportunities, not only for themselves but their children. However, to argue that affirmative action (in any form) is no longer needed when it comes to racial equity is unrealistic and unjust. We are playing catch-up for years of racial discrimination and exclusion, not to mention historical government and corporate policies that denied opportunities to people of color.
So where is the middle ground? What is a legitimate alternative to race-conscious affirmative action policies? There are no easy answers. It’s complicated. It’s messy. But let’s have the uncomfortable but necessary conversation about what’s next when it comes to affirmative action. I suggest we start by giving more weight to socioeconomic factors for coveted opportunities in institutions of every form.
What are your thoughts on the future of affirmative action and what should we do next? Write to me at [email protected].
Steve Adubato, PhD, is the author of five books including his latest, Lessons in Leadership. He is also an Emmy® Award–winning anchor on Thirteen/WNET (PBS) and NJ PBS. Check out steveadubato.org. Steve has appeared on CNN, FOX5 in NY and NBC’s Today Show, and his “Lessons in Leadership” video podcast with co-host Mary Gamba airs Sundays at 10 am on News 12+. Steve also provides executive leadership coaching and seminars for a variety of corporations and organizations both regionally and nationally. For more information, visit stand-deliver.com.
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