On June 29, 2023, the Supreme Court struck down Affirmative Action, ruling that race could not be considered as a factor in college and university admissions. In doing so, they not only ignored our country’s long history of racism in public schooling, but they eliminated a critical means of pursuing access to a great education for every student. As someone who attended Harvard while Affirmative Action was policy, taught in public schools, and is now the leader of one of America’s largest education equity organizations, I know this decision is a step away from justice. Since the ruling was passed, I’ve worked closely with the DonorsChoose team to unpack this blow to higher education equity and how it raises the stakes for our work supporting preK–12 classrooms.
When I applied to universities as a high school senior, I didn’t fit the traditional model of academic success. I’m a first generation American, the child of Haitian and Brazilian immigrants, and attended New Haven Public Schools. Each of the K-12 public schools I attended are what we call Equity Focus Schools at DonorsChoose: historically underfunded schools where the majority of students are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch, and where a majority of the students are Black, Latino, or Native American.
While I didn’t fully grasp it as a kid, I now understand the ways systemic racism and economic inequity placed me and my peers at a disadvantage. With less funding for books, AP classes, and extracurricular activities, my K-12 school environment wasn’t able to provide the same learning opportunities that most of my eventual classmates at Harvard had, and my college application looked very different from what schools like Harvard were used to seeing.
My high school didn’t have AP Macroeconomics, a working chemistry lab, or a fancy athletic center. But gratefully, I had access to other programs to fill in those gaps, like free academic summer programs ("nerd camps"!) that gave students like me the same high-level STEM instruction available in public schools serving higher income communities. I was also the beneficiary of a college admissions process that valued the perspective I brought through my various identities: a mixed-race Black student in an urban public school setting, a native Haitian Creole speaker who learned English as a second language, a passionate math and science nerd from the very beginning.
Without these race-conscious programs and policies, I would never have had the chance to eventually prove myself at Harvard, earning a physics degree and successfully working on cutting-edge experiments in particle physics, or to subsequently earn admission to Stanford to study business and education on my pathway to working on educational opportunities for others.
While college isn’t the only path to success after high school, it is a highly effective one. Studies show that when students of color attend selective colleges, they earn more after graduation and build more robust career networks — all of which will now be unduly harder for students of color to attain.
We’ve seen this re-marginalization play out before. When California eliminated the consideration of race in college admissions, there was an immediate sharp decline in the number of Black and Hispanic students attending the most selective institutions — not because these students became suddenly less qualified or deserving, but because the systemic inequities present in all our nation’s institution were able to exist unmitigated.
Some scholars estimate that over the coming years, we’ll see a nationwide 10% drop in Black and Hispanic enrollment, with declines as high as 30–40% at the most prestigious institutions where Affirmative Action was most often in play. I’m heartbroken to think of the novel contributions, unique innovations, and diverse perspectives our society will be missing out on by narrowing this pathway to success.
In the face of this decision, our commitment to racial equity in education is unwavering. Over the coming months and years, we’ll be working harder than ever to level the playing field across preK–12 public schools so that every student has an equal chance to chase their dreams.