In cases of affirmative action and student loans, some see a backlash to racial progress in education

WASHINGTON (AP) — As a black student raised by a single mother, Makia Green believes she benefited from a program that gave preference to students of color from economically disadvantaged backgrounds when she was admitted there. has over ten years at the University of Rochester.

As a borrower who still owes just over $20,000 on her undergraduate student loans, she’s counting on the debt relief promised by President Joe Biden to erase almost all of that.

Now, the Affirmative Action and Student Loan Forgiveness Plan — policies that disproportionately help black students — could soon be struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court. For Green and many other people of color, efforts to push them back reflect a larger reaction to racial advancement in higher education.

“I feel like the workers have been through enough – I’ve been through enough,” said Green, a community organizer. “From a pandemic, from an uprising, from a recession, the cost of living goes up. I deserved relief.

The decisions could also have political consequences among a generation of young voters of color who took Biden at his word when he promised to forgive the debt, said Wisdom Cole, director of the NAACP’s youth and college program.

“Year after year we have elected officials, we have advocates, we have different politicians who come to our communities to make promises. But now is the time to keep those promises,” he said.

The president’s plan forgives up to $10,000 of federal student debt for borrowers and doubles debt relief to $20,000 for borrowers who also received Pell grants. About half of the average debt held by black and Hispanic borrowers would be wiped out, the White House said. Six Republican-led states have filed a legal challenge over whether the president, a Democrat, has the power to cancel debt.

In affirmative action cases, the court is considering the use of race-conscious admissions policies that many selective colleges have used for decades to help build diversity on their campuses. The cases are brought by a conservative activist who argues that the Constitution prohibits the use of race in college admissions.

The High Court is expected to rule in each of the cases by the end of June.

Both cases focus on policies that address historical racial disparities in access to higher education, as black borrowers tend to disproportionately take on debt to afford a college education, said Dominique Baker, professor of educational policy at Southern Methodist University.

The backlash of racial progress tends to follow periods of social change and advancement, Baker said. In a study published in 2019, Baker and his co-authors found that states were more likely to enact affirmative action bans when white enrollment at public flagship universities declined.

“These are political tools that have the explicit purpose of reducing white supremacist power,” Baker said. The two legal challenges, she said, can be seen “as a backlash related to two attempts at racial justice.”

Green, who grew up in a low-income household in Harlem, New York, graduated from Rochester with about $40,000 in federal debt. Some of that was erased under a civil service pardon program when she completed two terms with Americorps, and she reduced it further with monthly installments until the government suspended the reimbursement due to the pandemic.

Green said she views both court cases as related to conservative attacks on diversity, equity and inclusion programs. Critics say opposition to such programs is rooted in equity issues and white grievances over the advancement of non-whites.

“It’s white supremacy at work,” Green said. “This is a long-standing tactic of white supremacist-leaning conservative groups to use education, and limit black people’s access to education, as a way to control and further oppress us.”

In the 1960s and 1970s, many colleges developed affirmative action plans to address the fact that many predominantly white schools were struggling to attract people from historically disadvantaged and underrepresented communities. Policies have also been created to promote greater inclusion of women.

Since the late 1970s, the Supreme Court has upheld affirmative action in college admissions three times on the grounds that institutions have a compelling interest in addressing past racial discrimination that has prevented nonwhite students from attending. to access higher education. The judges also accepted arguments that more diverse student bodies foster interracial understanding.

But with the Supreme Court skewing more ideologically conservative, some former students and advocates worry about how a ruling against affirmative action could affect diversity on campus.

Tarina Ahuja, a rising senior at Harvard College, said being part of a diverse student body has been a crucial part of her undergraduate experience. She recalled classes where students discussed their lived experiences on topics such as police violence, colonialism and labor movements — discussions that would have fallen flat without a diverse range of student perspectives.

“The decision is most likely going to be something that scares a lot of us,” she said.

In anticipation of a possible ruling against race-conscious admissions, some colleges are considering adding more essays to get a better picture of an applicant’s background. Others plan to boost recruitment in racially diverse fields. But in states that have already banned affirmative action, similar efforts at selective colleges have largely failed to sustain diversity gains.

Jonathan Loc, a Harvard graduate student who helped organize classes in support of affirmative action, said that for students of color, it’s impossible to talk about their lives without mentioning race, whether because of the difficulties encountered or simply because of their pride in their cultural heritage. .

“I grew up as the son of refugees in a low-income community and in a single-parent family burdened by the myth of the model minority,” he said. “But I think that kind of storytelling also helps me to be an Asian American who is focused on racial justice, concerned with making sure that everyone who has a unique story related to their racial background or whatever what origin have this story heard.”

If the court rules against the affirmative action, it will be important for colleges to find ways to show that they see students as more than a number on paper, said Damon Hewitt, president and executive director of the Committee on lawyers for civil rights under the law.

“We need schools to say, ‘Look, the court says we can’t consider race, but we still see you,'” said Hewitt, whose organization defended affirmative action before the Supreme Court in october.

Kristin McGuire, the executive director of Young Invincibles, said she couldn’t ignore the decisions looming over the upcoming June 19 holiday, which marks the emancipation of slaves in Texas two years after the Emancipation Proclamation . For two years after abolition, black Americans were kept as laborers and denied the freedom to begin building generational wealth, McGuire said.

“If both are overturned, it will send a very clear signal that our justice system is not supporting the most vulnerable populations, especially those who helped build this country,” McGuire said.


The Associated Press education team receives support from the Carnegie Corporation of New York. The AP is solely responsible for all content.


Annie Ma and Aaron Morrison are members of AP’s Race and Ethnicity team. Follow Ma on Twitter: Follow Morrison on Twitter:

Leave a Comment