Trump Admin’s Roll-Back of Affirmative Action will Reduce Black Enrollment

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Trump officials announced that schools and colleges should no longer use racial diversity as guideline for admissions. The consequence will be lower enrollment figures for people of color and a set-up for a new Supreme Court challenge to eliminate affirmative action entirely, says Kamau Franklin

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Story Transcript

GREG WILPERT: It’s The Real News Network, and I’m Greg Wilpert.

The Trump administration announced on Tuesday that it will recommend to schools, colleges, and universities to use so-called “race blind” admissions standards. In effect, this means reversing the Obama administration’s guidelines which called on educational institutions to ensure racial diversity in their admissions processes. The Legal Defense Fund of the NAACP issued a press release condemning the administration’s move, saying, quote: Racial diversity is not only key to preparing our nation’s young people for the global economy, but it also exposes students to new ideas and perspectives which are essential to a well-rounded education. Reversing the policy guidelines exposes schools and colleges to lawsuits now, should they can continue to adopt racial diversity criteria in their admissions processes.

Joining me now to discuss this latest blow to affirmative action is Kamau Franklin. Kamau is the redistricting campaign manager for a statewide initiative in Georgia to create a transparent and fair redistricting map that does not negatively impact the rights of people of color in Georgia. Thanks for joining us again, Kamau.

KAMAU FRANKLIN: Thanks for having me.

GREG WILPERT: So what will be the practical effect for people of color of reversing the Obama administration’s guidelines on diversity?

KAMAU FRANKLIN: I think the practical effect is going to be lower admissions, and particularly in public universities, but I think also in private universities over the next few years. I think most schools are going to be scared now to use race as part of a application process knowing that the Justice Department is threatening investigations and possible legal suits, and that they want to bring an end to the practice of affirmative action and go back to what they’d like to believe is a race-neutral set of objectives and standards for people applying for college.

GREG WILPERT: So is there anything that schools that are committed to diversity can still do to ensure diversity without running afoul of the courts, and of the Trump, Trump’s Justice and, or Education Departments?

KAMAU FRANKLIN: Well, sure. I mean, as of now there’s been no real change in the law. But the threat is there, and if the threat is that there will be investigations. And obviously this is setting up for some new Supreme Court challenge. There was recently a case involving Asian students at Harvard that a very conservative law firm took on, and the Justice Department is now doing an investigation which probably will serve as one of the test cases to end affirmative action as we know it. So I think it’s going, really going to be up to schools to hold tight, to continue putting political pressure on, and not to just decide to not use standards that involve diverse, ethnic diversity, racial diversity, gender diversity when it comes to applicants to their schools.

But I think it’s a, there’s no doubt that this is a scary moment for people who are seeking higher education. Because I think particularly for black folks, other folks of color, women, the Trump administration has now decided to take the gloves off and challenge affirmative action again, giving some red meat to its base. And I know that this is going to be posed as something that particularly is going to be a white-black issue, although as we know, affirmative action affects not only black people but people of color, and predominantly white women. But it won’t be seen through that lens. It would be termed as a fight to not let black folks, who they will try to show as undeserving, go to high-level elite public schools.

GREG WILPERT: Actually, I just want to take a step back and look at the kind of evolution of affirmative action in the United States for a second. The Supreme Court seems to have whittled down the possibilities for affirmative action over the past few decades with one decision after the other. There was a time once, I believe, when affirmative action was about reversing historical discrimination and racism, and now it seems to be mainly about diversity and emphasizing how diversity is good for everyone, not just those, for those who were previously excluded from educational opportunities. Now it seems like diversity won’t even be sufficient rationale for affirmative action. What do you think about this kind of, kind of overview of the evolution of affirmative action? Would you agree with that?

KAMAU FRANKLIN: No, I think you’re completely correct. I mean, obviously affirmative action came about doing the Kennedy administration as a guise to prevent discrimination, and it was later extended under Johnson to any organization that received governmental funds from the federal government. That included, again, private institutions as well as public institutions. And that was probably the high point of concerns of a victory, let’s say, in terms of having more blacks, more folks of color, again women, being able to attend elite schools or public colleges, and even opening up, obviously, different employment and other opportunities for different groups. I think but since that time, the sort of rebuttal has been to go towards a non-racial society. And I think that’s a code word for, again, not letting black people have preferences, as they would say, over others.

But I do think that, you know, affirmative action has always had limited gains and possibilities. It’s something that’s helped mostly sort of middle class folks, folks who are more prepared to take advantage of these opportunities. But still it mattered, because it was not only a counter to overt racism and advance black people and other folks attending, but it also tried to deal with covert discrimination. Unequal access to education, cultural bias in testing, legacy entrances. This was one counter to all of that. And as you can see from the federal government’s response, I don’t think it’s interested in ending what we think of as racial preferences, but something that allows some sort of equal footing for folks who historically and currently have been discriminated against to seek higher education.

GREG WILPERT: You mentioned earlier that this seems like a bit of a set up at the moment. I mean, and one of the things that might be related to this is that one of the Supreme Court justices who seemed to show an interest in slowing down the dismantling of affirmative action was Justice Anthony Kennedy, who often voted with some of the more liberal justices to preserve some degree of affirmative action. However, Justice Kennedy will now resign at the end of July. Does this mean that affirmative action once and for all is over in the United States, should trump appoint a solid opponent of affirmative action?

KAMAU FRANKLIN: I think for the time being that would probably be correct. I think, as you stated, in Fisher v. University of Texas in 2016, Kennedy was the swing vote that allowed for affirmative action to continue, albeit in a limited way, as you said earlier, being one of several factors that could be taken in effect in terms of the admission into colleges, including diversity. So it is limited and whittled away over time. But still that was something that could be used as a factor for admission purposes.

I think with Kennedy’s exit, and as I stated before with this new case with Asian-American students challenging Harvard’s administration admission requirements, I think this is completely being done to set up a case where affirmative action case gets to the Supreme Court. And this will allow the Supreme Court, in a most likely 5-4 decision, to permanently ban a ratio using race and/or gender as a, as one factor in allowing people for admissions, which will have wide wielding effect across the country, not only in public education and again in private education, but this starts to whittle away things around employment and housing. So I think this is a really dangerous time in terms of, again, the limited achievements that were, that got in under the guise of affirmative action. This is a really dangerous time where a lot of that stuff is about to be challenged and taken away.

GREG WILPERT: I just want to ask you one last question kind of more about the approach to affirmative action. There had been some debate, if I recall correctly, about whether perhaps institutions should move toward a more class-based type of affirmative action rather than a race based one that would, in other words, ensure that working-class families, or children of working-class families, have more access to higher education, together with, of course, whether they’re white or black. And that would move away from a racial one but would provide equal benefits, in that sense. Do you think that still is an option, as a way of increasing equality and equity in the United States?

KAMAU FRANKLIN: I think it is still an option, but it’s not an either-or. It’s an and-and, and-but situation. Specific race-based affirmative action policies go towards a deep-seated discrimination that’s happened in this country over centuries. And I think to take that away means that there’s definitely going to be less black students in public and private colleges, less black students able, not able to worry now, not only with the costs, but now just even getting admitted into particular colleges and universities which, through no fault of their own, they might not have had the resources, the, the background in terms of access to educational resources. And all this stuff is going to mean that there’s going to be limited opportunities, or more limited opportunities.

When you look at some of the states who already banned affirmative action, they had lower admissions post- their bans on affirmative actions immediately. So I think that’s going to be what we’re going to see going forward. It’s, although I think it is good to have some class-based admission standards, but I think it doesn’t take the place of making up for or countering racial discrimination that’s both historically and currently going on in this country.

GREG WILPERT: OK. I’m afraid we’re going to have to leave it there for now. I was speaking to Kamau Franklin, redistricting campaign manager for a statewide redistricting initiative in Georgia. Thanks for having joined us today, Kamau.

KAMAU FRANKLIN: Thank you very much.

GREG WILPERT: And thank you for joining The Real News Network. Also, keep in mind we recently started our summer fundraiser and need your help to reach our goal of raising $200000. Every dollar that you donate will be matched. And unlike practically all other news outlets, we do not accept support from governments or corporations. Please do what you can today.