I graduated from Northwestern University in 2012, and while I don't regret my experience there, I find myself frustrated by how not diverse it was. When I walked on to campus as a freshman in the fall of 2008, it was one of the least diverse groups to ever enter the university: only 4.8% of admitted students were African-American, and only 7.5% were Latino/Hispanic. It wasn't like I didn't see people of color on campus - some of my closest friends in college were POC. But I was taken aback by the overwhelming whiteness of it all sometimes. Micro-aggressions existed within my area of concentration (Theater and Performance Studies), where you could sometimes count the non-white majors in each year on one hand. It was, to say the least, frustrating.
In 2011, when I was a senior, the Obama Administration released a joint statement from the Department of Education and the Department of Justice that encouraged universities to prioritize diversity in their college admissions. It said, in part:
"Ensuring that our nation's students are provided with learning environments comprised of students of diverse backgrounds is not just a lofty ideal. As the Supreme Court has recognized, the benefits of participating in diverse learning environments flow to an individual, his or her classmates, and the community as a whole. These benefits greatly contribute to the educational, economic, and civic life of this nation.
"Learning environments comprised of students from diverse backgrounds provide an enhanced educational experience for individual students. Interacting with students who have different perspectives and life experiences can raise the level of academic and social discourse both inside and outside the classroom; indeed, such interaction is an education in itself. By choosing to create this kind of rich academic environment, educational institutions help students sharpen their critical thinking and analytical skills."
In the years since I graduated, Northwestern has grown leaps and bounds when it comes to diversity. Last fall, the incoming class of 2021 was 10% African-American, 12% Latino/Hispanic and 19% Asian-American. In the fall of 2012, the University established Campus Inclusion and Community, a group which creates an inclusive experience for students. The Office of Institutional Diversity and Inclusion was established in 2015, and numerous other student-and-faculty run groups now promote diversity on campus. However slowly this change has happened, the fact remains that Northwestern is now more diverse than it's ever been, and while I attribute a lot of that to President Morty O. Schapiro, a wise man with a deep appreciation for his students' needs, I have to attribute some of it to the Obama Administration.
These strides towards equality could all be undone by Tuesday's announcement that the Department of Justice will rescind Obama's guidance on diversity in college admissions. In addition, they will also rescind six more guidances on education, many of them having to do with Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, the Supreme Court case where a woman unsuccessfully tried to sue Texas for denying her admission because she was white. Although these policies were never codified into law by acts of Congress, they still represented the views of the federal government, and Attorney General Sessions' decisions show that he does not value diversity in student bodies.
The timing of this is highly suspect. Next season, a highly anticipated case will come before the Supreme Court concerning whether or not Harvard's admissions policy discriminates against Asian-Americans. With the retirement of Anthony Kennedy, the future of Affirmative Action will likely be decided by whomever Trump appoints as his next Supreme Court pick. The Trump Administration has now tipped its hand to show how little they care about Affirmative Action, and if the court aligns with their views, the future of young persons of color who want to go to our nation's best colleges will be jeopardized.
Education advocates have registered their disgust with the administration's actions. Howard University Law School Dean Danielle Holley-Walker called it "highly unfortunate and counterproductive", and Anurima Bhargava, co-author of the Obama guidance, called it "a wholly political attack." But the Department of Education clearly doesn't care what its critics think, as it has already posted the 2008 Bush Administration guidance on education up on its website, which argues for racially neutral school admissions.
With Affirmative Action on the chopping block, schools like Northwestern may experience a rollback of the progress that they have worked so hard to achieve as Trump and his cronies give zealous admissions officers an excuse to discriminate. I've been plenty devastated by the decisions of the Trump Administration recently, but this is one of the most disappointing ones yet to come down the pike. And sadly, I know they'll only get worse.