The US Supreme Court reaffirmed Michigan’s Prop 2, which prevents public colleges and universities from using race or gender in admissions decisions, on April 22, 2014. While many in the Civil Liberties movement view this decision as a step back, it actually paves the way for a new era of race relations that depends on social progress instead of discriminatory policies.
As then-Senator Barack Obama pointed out in his famous race speech in 2008, today’s racial, as well as gender, economic inequality is largely inherited from a history of discrimination. As such, the most prevalent consequences of institutionalized racism and sexism are manifested in socioeconomic terms. Because the Michigan ban disallows any racial or gender based considerations in the admissions process, it seems the piece of legislation at issue does actually reinforce the Equal Protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, despite what opponents say.
Given these two considerations, public schools should be able to accomplish their mission of diversity by giving preference to qualified students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds who come from socioeconomically diverse regions.
Although opponents of the Michigan ban pointed to evidence that suggests these practices do not produce the type of racial diversity sought after, this does not mean directly accounting for race and gender in the admissions process is the only, or best, solution while a failure to achieve racial diversity through indirect means may well be the result of far larger problems, i.e. failings in primary schools, where minorities live, may not be producing qualified candidates.
In such cases, forcing students into colleges only sets them up for failure, thus the legacy of racism is best addressed in our failing elementary and high schools. Alternatively, candidates may not be able to afford to attend classes, they might lack faith in the educational system, or colleges may not be recruiting enough students from regions where disenfranchised minorities live. As for the Michigan ban, the Supreme Court has declared it Constitutional, but it is important to remember it does not prevent legal action against public schools that engage in racist or sexist practices.