College students and administrators across Minnesota pledged Monday to uphold their commitments to fostering diversity on campus, no matter how the U.S. Supreme Court rules in two cases challenging affirmative action.
Higher education leaders stood by the "holistic" approaches they apply to admissions now, and several private colleges in the state have signed on to amicus briefs that urge the court to allow them to keep using race as one of many factors in evaluating potential students.
Macalester, Carleton and St. Olaf colleges joined a brief submitted by relatively small and selective private schools that said they have "repeatedly concluded that race cannot be excluded entirely from admissions considerations if they are to enroll the diverse classes critical to their educational mission." The University of St. Thomas and St. Catherine University signed a similar, separate brief filed by several Catholic colleges nationwide.
In a statement, the University of Minnesota Office of Undergraduate Education said it is watching the case closely. It noted the U defines diversity broadly, weighing a variety of factors including economic background, geographic origin, age, gender identity, religion, ethnicity, race, sexual orientation, abilities, talents and beliefs.
"Our holistic review approach means that no one factor is the deciding factor for admission," the statement read. "Regardless of how the case is decided, we remain committed to an admissions process that carefully looks at everything a student brings to our campus community and that continues to support student success."
Meanwhile, Minnesota State system spokesman Doug Anderson said it does not expect the court's decision to impact admissions because the system does not use race as an admission criterion for its more than 30 colleges and universities.
"What we do here is already promoting inclusivity and making sure that we're intentional, but also that we're not enrolling students just based on their [racial] identities," Chocoletta Simpson, director of equal opportunity and Title IX coordinator at St. Cloud State University, said in an interview.
The cases before the U.S. Supreme Court concern admissions policies that consider race as a factor when weighing applications at the University of North Carolina and Harvard University.
A group called Students for Fair Admissions brought the cases, arguing that those policies violate a portion of the Civil Rights Act and, in the case of the University of North Carolina, a public institution, the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution.
Both universities maintain their policies are legal and help shape more diverse campuses.
The Supreme Court has previously upheld affirmative action in several cases, including in a 2016 decision in a case brought against the University of Texas.
But the new cases are being heard by a more conservative Supreme Court that has shown a willingness to overturn long-held precedents, such as Roe v. Wade.
T. Anansi Wilson, director of the Center for the Study of Black Life and the Law at the Mitchell Hamline School of Law, listened to the oral arguments in both cases as they unfolded Monday and believes that although the court will likely curtail the use of affirmative action by colleges and universities, it won't rule the practice completely unconstitutional.
Wilson said there are several questions surrounding how lower courts interpret the idea of discrimination in admissions as it relates to portions of the Civil Rights Act.
"I would not be surprised if the court affirmed in part, and curtailed as well," they said.
At Macalester College in St. Paul on Monday, several students said they generally support affirmative action, saying diversity on campus has positively affected them during their time at the school and they want to see that continue.
Macalester's President Suzanne Rivera agreed, tweeting Monday, "No matter the court's decision, we affirm the value of, and will do all in our power to create, a diverse community of students" at the college.
As of the fall 2022 semester, 37% of students enrolled at Macalester are people of color, compared to 25% of students statewide. Macalester is also known for its population of international students.
Other students said that they feel Macalester does a good job of admitting diverse classes each year, and putting that diversity in jeopardy would negatively affect their experience.
"At first, I felt like race shouldn't be a part of admitting students," said Macalester freshman Lindsay Monkam, who is Black. "When I was applying for different schools, it was always asking for race, and I was like, 'Does it matter?' But now that I think about it as a student, I think if I was the only person of color here I wouldn't feel comfortable."
At the U on Monday, freshman Edil Osman reflected on the moment she stood at orientation and heard she was part of the most diverse class in the school's history — a statement that made her feel she belonged.
Osman, whose family is Somali, said she generally supports affirmative action and diversity efforts at the university. She knows Somali immigrants in Minnesota typically experience poverty and unemployment at a higher rate than other groups in the state. And Osman believes encouraging Somali Minnesotans to pursue higher education is a way to help them achieve economic parity with their peers.
She said efforts to do away with race-conscious admissions undermine those goals and the idea that education can act as an equalizer for opportunity.
"Do you want people to stagnate? Or do you want them to contribute to society?" Osman said.