WASHINGTON — Scores of students from Harvard and elsewhere, dressed in light blue “Defend Diversity” T-shirts and bandanas, held signs saying, “Not Your Wedge,” “Affirmative Action Is Not Checking a Box,” and “We Will Not Be Used” as they cheered speakers from civil rights and affirmative action advocacy groups on the steps of the Supreme Court on Monday.
Inside, justices heard five hours of arguments in two lawsuits that could decide the future of diversity on college campuses across the country. The cases were brought by Edward Blum, a critic of affirmative action, and his group, Students for Fair Admissions. They allege that race-conscious admissions policies at Harvard and the University of North Carolina are unconstitutional, and they seek to upend more than four decades of Supreme Court precedent allowing institutions of higher education to consider race as one factor among many in evaluating applicants.
Angie Shin ’23 said the rallygoers are looking beyond what happens in court. “We are building a coalition and a movement among college and university students across the country, making sure that we have a power base in place so that campuses and the country will be mobilized to fight for race-conscious admissions and for support for students of color.” Demonstrations in support of the Harvard and UNC cases took place both Sunday and Monday, with Monday’s event organized by the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund.
Harvard President Larry Bacow wrote to the wider community Monday about his personal views on the subject. “Whatever promise we hold as individuals — for ourselves and for our world — is not predicated on narrowly structured measures of academic distinction,” he said. “When Harvard assembles a class of undergraduates, it matters that they come from different social, economic, geographical, racial, and ethnic backgrounds. It matters that they come to our campus with varied academic interests and skill sets. Research and lived experience teach us that each student’s learning experience is enriched by encountering classmates who grew up in different circumstances.”