In Wake of Affirmative Action Reversal, Students Push for University to Promote Diversity

Students are “disappointed” with recent affirmative action decision; hope shifts to the University to continue diversity efforts. Image Credit: Erin Hurley / The Trail

By Erin Hurley

  Students of the University of Puget Sound have expressed their concern with the recent SCOTUS decision to abolish affirmative action, and they are calling on the administration to do more to support students of color. The polarizing decision leaves Kellen Hagans, Student of Color Coordinator for the Office of Institutional Equity and Diversity, particularly bothered. He highlights the main beneficiaries of affirmative action: white women. White women have reaped the benefits of affirmative action policies while some conservative white women are simultaneously the staunchest opponents. Hagans explains his frustration with how the program has become “politicized” and “a pervasive way of showing a lot of other ways that things have been twisted against people of color and students of color.”

  Hagans’ work focuses on helping students of color feel welcome once they step foot on campus. “We can recruit more students, but how are we retaining them once they get here? And what is the University actually doing for that?” he asks. He suggests that the University should consider establishing certain faculty positions with the express purpose of retaining and supporting students of color. He credits specific staff members as being encouraging and outstanding resources during his time here.

  Hagans adds that the University should prioritize a relationship with the Tacoma community. Tacoma is one of the more racially diverse cities in Washington state; 43% of the population identifies as non-white, compared to a state total of 24% identifying as non-white. Hagans argues that the University does not give local high school students ample attention. He describes how he has met many who have not heard of the University of Puget Sound. “I think that just really shows how the University doesn’t have a genuine relationship with the greater Tacoma area. I think that in terms of diversity if the University tried to serve the Tacoma area students a little bit more, they would see a rise in diversity,” he said. 

  Nate Sansone, co-president of the Jewish Student Union, acknowledges that the rollback of affirmative action will not impact many Jewish applicants to the University, since Judaism is not a race. “Still, it might negatively impact enrollment opportunities for prospective Jewish students of color, as well as non-Jewish prospective students who hold marginalized racial and ethnic identities,” he said. 

  Sofia Cunningham, president of Sin Fronteras–an affinity group representing Latinx students on campus–expresses her frustration with the summer decision to discontinue affirmative action. “It was not the best solution by any means,” she explains, “but taking it away is probably the worst thing that could’ve happened.” The system has faults, but it allowed a path for what Cunningham describes as “minorities to get our foot in the door.” She acknowledges that students of color already have a difficult time at the University  because it is “expensive” and “prestigious.” Adding the decision to the already formidable mix is creating more worry for students like Cunningham.

  On a broader note, the implications of the ruling are not unique to the University of Puget Sound. Universities across the nation are struggling to encourage and implement diversity measures under a system that has disallowed the consideration of race and ethnicity during the admissions process. The University claims to remain committed to diversity despite the ruling. In addition to a statement issued by President Crawford and sentiments expressed by the Vice President for Institutional Equity and Diversity, Dr. Lorna Hernandez Jarvis, and the Vice President for Enrollment, Dr. Matthew Boyce, there are a variety of programs dedicated to recruiting and supporting a diverse student body. While the SCOTUS decision will impede traditional forms of increasing diversity, it will not impede the University’s goal. 

  In spite of her concerns about the SCOTUS decision, Cunningham still has hope. She explains that “it’s difficult to consider” how the University will continue to emphasize diversity through various “loopholes.” University officials have cited using race and ethnicity in the recruiting process and prioritizing students from minority communities for scholarships as tools to create educational equity. Cunningham remains optimistic and open to these new options.

  Cunningham emphasizes the importance of our generation’s voice. “We have power in our representatives,” she says and reminds people to vote. Electing local leaders who acknowledge their duty of promoting diversity is a vital step to a more equitable future. She also highlights the responsibility of educating yourself and inviting other people in to educate them. 

  Lastly, Cunningham encourages the University to not only listen to student voices when deciding these new policies but to also listen to faculty. She explains that some faculty of color have felt excluded from discussions of institutional equity. “The people running the University are primarily white,” Cunningham explains. “There can be mistakes made because they’re thinking they’re doing the best or thinking they’re doing the most that they can, and they might not know what that is.”