YWCA Mohawk Valley Condemns SCOTUS Decision on Affirmative Action
YWCA Network Expresses Concern for Long-Term Effects
UTICA, N.Y. (Aug. 24, 2023) – As the local chapter of a nation-wide network dedicated to our mission to eliminate racism, empower women, and promote peace, justice, freedom, and dignity for all, YWCA Mohawk Valley (YWCA MV) believes in the efficacy and morality of affirmative action practices.
As many of our children, grandchildren, and neighbors are returning to college or attending for the first time, we ask that our community join us in reflecting on how many Black and brown students may not be afforded the same opportunities now because of the Supreme Court’s decision.
It is critical that no matter how much time passes, as the initial noise and conversation surrounding affirmative action dies down, that we never stop advocating for fair and equitable treatment for all.
By protecting marginalized groups from discrimination on the basis of race, gender, and sexuality, affirmative action laws have been essential in creating a United States that is more equitable and accessible for all. Women, people of color, and especially women of color have faced enough barriers to success during their lifetimes; it is our mission to eradicate those barriers for good.
Affirmative action, as defined by Cornell Law School, is “a set of procedures designed to eliminate unlawful discrimination among applicants, remedy the results of such prior discrimination, and prevent such discrimination in the future.” Such practices have been present in the U.S. for more than a century, influencing dozens of other critical legislative actions like the Equal Pay Act of 1963, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Title IX of the Educational Amendments of 1972, and more.
By eliminating these measures, SCOUTS has significantly scaled back decades of our nation’s progress on educational opportunity and socioeconomic mobility for people of color.
The concurring opinions for the court’s decision state that admissions should be (and now are) based solely on merit, considering factors like academic achievement and extracurricular activities. On the surface, this seems like a logical procedure to ensure equity and equality among college applicants. In theory, it could work. However, in practice, there are historic and systemic barriers in place for a disproportionate number of minority individuals.
Under a merit-based admissions system, gifted student programs would become a priority accolade for new college applicants. A report first published in 2015 titled Can Universal Screening Increase the Representation of Low Income and Minority Students in Gifted Education? concluded that gifted programs to which participating students had to be referred by a teacher or parent “all systematically ‘under-referred’” minority populations. Those populations were Black and Latinx students, those benefiting from a free or reduced-price lunch program, English language learners, and girls. The reasons for these discrepancies can vary from person to person and school to school, but tend to frequently include accessibility, representation, and teacher bias.
Black students are also disproportionately subjected to school-related punishments such as detention or in-school suspension, as well as referrals to law enforcement. Despite making up just 15% of the American high school student population in 2015-16, the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights reported that Black students accounted for 31% of reported punitive practices. Any of these infractions would lower Black students’ probabilities for consideration with merit-based admissions.
Despite our best efforts as a country, Black and Latinx individuals remain underrepresented among student body populations at highly selective universities, a problem that will only worsen with the elimination of affirmative action. In a 2018 report titled Social Exclusion: The State of State U for Black Students, researchers conclude that “even as Black high school graduation rates have improved dramatically, and the total percentage of 18-24 year-olds who are Black has slightly increased, enrollment of African American students at elite public colleges has remained stagnant or declined in many states.”
There is another large population that has greatly (and mostly) benefited from affirmative action: white women. At its core, affirmative action is a system designed to break down barriers. Recent generations have seen women surpass men in seeking higher education and in various careers.
A 2014 report released by the U.S. President’s Council of Economic Advisers (CEA) noted that “women are increasingly among our most skilled workers, attaining the majority of college degrees and deepening their work experiences.” The CEA also acknowledges that millennial women (born between 1981 and 1996) have more labor market equality than previous generations. But while this is seen as significant progress, Black women and women of color are still being left behind.
In YWCA USA’s statement regarding the end of affirmative action, CEO Margaret Mitchell stated “We all lose when the bright minds who could fuel the next generation of innovation and economic achievement are denied equitable access to higher education. I fear for young women of color who face the dual realities of race and sex discrimination and attacks on their reproductive rights – and for people of color, gender-diverse individuals, and other marginalized communities who face unrelenting legislative attacks on their rights, safety, and opportunities.”
SCOTUS’s decision to end affirmative action comes barely more than a year after the Dobbs v. Jackson ruling that overturned Roe v. Wade, a ruling that also disproportionately impacted Black women and women of color. YWCA MV and the national YWCA network has taken a strong stance against this verdict from day one, knowing how detrimental the outcome would be for our community and our country.
So, what’s next? What can we as individuals, as communities, do to redirect our society back toward positive progress? We start on the ground.
Never stop learning. There is always personal progress to be made and new insights to embrace. In relation to affirmative action, a great place to start is learning how to challenge the narrative that the practice is harmful. Kimberlé Crenshaw, UCLA Professor of Law and author of Framing Affirmative Action, says “Most fundamentally, affirmative action needs to be rescued from the distortions produced by colorblindness, which must be exposed and deposed. … Colorblindness manages to do its work without the opposition it might otherwise warrant by masquerading as the heir apparent to the very movement that it seeks to contain and destabilize.”
Invest in our community. Support Black and minority-owned businesses, non-profits, and grassroots initiatives. There are dozens of incredible organizations right here in the Mohawk Valley already doing the work to create equal and equitable space for all; find one whose mission aligns with your own and get involved.
Be an advocate, and be loud about it. Send letters to your representatives asking that they support the things you care about. They’re in Albany and in Washington D.C. to represent you, make sure your voice is being heard. YWCA USA has an online Action Center to get you started with pre-written letters on a variety of issues; just click send!
YWCA MV recommits every day to fighting injustices like these and we will never stop, not until justice just is. We are proud to have you join us on this journey.
To learn more about YWCA MV and join our mission, visit ywcamv.org.
YWCA MV is available for anyone experiencing domestic and/or sexual violence via our free and confidential 24-hour hotline services. Visit ywcamv.org/Chat to reach an advocate directly through our private, secure server. In Oneida County, call or text 315.797.7740 for domestic and sexual violence crisis services. In Herkimer County, call 315.866.4120 for child advocacy and adult sexual violence crisis services. For more information about YWCA MV, visit ywcamv.org.