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After affirmative action ruling, Colorado colleges prepare for 2024 admissions cycle

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Shannon Tyler

(Colorado Newsline) With the next college admissions cycle just around the corner, administrators at Colorado universities and colleges are discussing how they plan to move forward without affirmative action to aid in their diversity and inclusion goals.

On June 29, conservative justices on the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that race-conscious admissions policies violate the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment in two cases against Harvard University and the University of North Carolina, ending 45 years of affirmative action in education. 

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Many universities and colleges in the Colorado never used the practice in their decisions, but a handful did, including Colorado College, the University of Colorado Boulder, the Air Force Academy and the University of Denver.

Several follow a “holistic” model in reviewing applications, which typically accounts for several attributes of a student, including academics, extracurriculars, background experience, geographic location and socioeconomic status. For a handful of schools, that also included race. 

Administrators at the schools released statements shortly after the Supreme Court’s ruling promising to maintain their diversity, and some claimed the decision won’t affect their campuses at all.

“What I want to affirm to the University of Denver community is that this ruling does not weaken the University of Denver’s commitment to diversity in our student body,” DU Chancellor Jeremy Haefner said in his statement. “Race-conscious decision-making is just one of many tools the University of Denver uses to ensure a diverse student body.”

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Several schools with relatively high acceptance rates said they are not concerned about a drop in diversity like what was seen at California schools after the state prohibited affirmative action in 1996. After that legislation took effect in California, at the University of California Berkeley, one of the more selective schools, enrollment of Black and Latino students dropped by 40%, according to a 2020 study by the school.

This ruling does not weaken the University of Denver’s commitment to diversity in our student body.

– DU Chancellor Jeremy Haefner

But at Colorado College — a highly selective private school — students are worried that the decision could have a serious impact on the school’s diversity. Administrators say that finding a new way to allow students of color to share their stories with admissions staff will be vital to maintaining a commitment to diversity and inclusion. 

Colorado College senior Alex Stambuk, a Latino student from Castle Rock, said he is worried about the future of the campus. He said over the past few years, he and his peers have seen campus diversity increase, and he said they are worried it will go back to how it was before.

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“I definitely have seen more POC students, like we have this strong Latino group on campus, but there still needs to be work done,” Stambuk said, referring to people of color. “But I think now with the decision, I am worried and my friends are worried it might go back to earlier trends where there is barely any diverse people.”

‘A mountain of opportunity’

Karen Kristof, dean of admissions for Colorado College, said the school has planned for a slight change in their admissions process. She said this is a historic moment in higher education, when schools must show their commitment to diversity and inclusion. 

“I think we’re in a good position because we’ve been talking about what this might look like,” she said. “I see this as a mountain of opportunity, rather than a mountain of challenge, in some ways.”

Colorado College Cossitt Hall is pictured on Feb. 5, 2022. (Julia Fennell/Colorado Newsline)

 

One thing the college’s leaders have focused on is a widely discussed “loophole” in Chief Justice John Roberts’ opinion, said Douglas Edlin, a Colorado College political science professor. Roberts wrote that students are not prohibited in an application from discussing their race and how it has affected their life.

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“A benefit to a student who overcame racial discrimination, for example, must be tied to that student’s courage and determination … In other words, the student must be treated based on his or her experiences as an individual — not on the basis of race,” he stated in the opinion.

Edlin said that’s the best outcome that supporters of affirmative action could have realistically hoped for from the Supreme Court’s 6-3 conservative majority. Some school administrators had worried the ruling would completely ban the use or mention of race in applications, he said.

He said the opinion “creates space for admissions policies to be race-neutral but not necessarily race-blind.” Now is the time for admissions to find out how to craft an admissions policy to fit into that space, he said.

“How admissions officers will work that out is going to be their difficult obligation in the next weeks and months because… applications are going to start arriving pretty soon,” Edlin said.

2024 admissions cycle

The Common App, the exclusive website used for several universities’ admissions process, opens Aug. 1, and colleges must finalize any changes they plan to make by then. Kristof said it is crucial for colleges to figure out next steps, and her admissions team is crafting their questions and figuring out how they can best encourage students to share their backgrounds in their applications. 

“I think that we will be asking students to (express their identity) and we will express how we value you as an individual, we see you, we appreciate you, and we want to know who you are,” Kristof said.

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Kristof acknowledged that this new normal will put an extra burden on students of color. It is difficult, she said, for applicants, especially for 17- or 18-year-olds, to understand and articulate to colleges through an essay how their background will have an impact on a college campus.

We value you as an individual, we see you, we appreciate you, and we want to know who you are.

– Karen Kristof, Colorado College dean of admissions

“I think trying to help students unpack this will be our biggest piece of access work,” Kristof said. “We will help students understand or help them to unpack what their experiences have been like and that we want to hear them.” 

The so-called loophole, while possibly the best way to still include race, is another way students of color have to prove themselves, Stambuk said. 

“I think that is an extra burden on POCs,” Stambuk said. “Race is always centered around struggles and adversity. Students may now have to put more emphasis on their identity and on their race and how they overcame such adversity, even though that shouldn’t be.”

Stambuk said he hopes to see his college have meaningful conversations with students to understand the impact of the decision and be transparent with their plan.

Kristof said while the public conversation around affirmative action has characterized the practice only as checking a box, for admissions staff at Colorado College, it’s always been about gaining a fuller understanding a person’s background, identity and experiences.

“It’s our job to say why this is important, and why we’re going to practice it a little bit differently,” she said, “but that our commitment remains the same.”

Colorado Newsline is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Colorado Newsline maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Quentin Young for questions: info@coloradonewsline.com. Follow Colorado Newsline on Facebook and Twitter.