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What the Supreme Court's Affirmative Action Ruling Means for BC
University administrators and faculty react to the controversial decision.
The Supreme Court’s ruling last summer that gutted affirmative action policies at colleges and universities was met by Boston College administrators with frustration and disappointment, but also with a commitment to work within the law to further the University’s longstanding efforts to enroll diverse and talented classes.
“Boston College has greatly benefited from a student body of varied backgrounds, which has enriched intellectual discourse and social life on our campus,” University President William P. Leahy, SJ, said in a statement. Continuing, Fr. Leahy said that “while the law has changed, the values and goals of Boston College have not. The University remains committed to the transformative power of education and to enrolling a student body that reflects American society, in accordance with the law.”
Boston College Law Professor and Dean’s Distinguished Scholar Kent Greenfield, an expert on the Supreme Court, criticized the ruling. For mission-driven schools like BC, Greenfield said, “a diverse student body is essential. Diversity of all kinds—racial, sexual, socioeconomic, ideological—is important in constructing a student community that reflects the school’s commitments to social justice and searching for truth. The court’s ruling will make it much more difficult for us to achieve the kind of diversity we aspire to have here on campus. Diversity makes us better. It makes the classroom experience better. It makes the community stronger. The court’s ruling harms us as a community, and our teaching and learning will suffer.”
Professor of History Martin Summers, who recently completed his term as director of the African and African Diaspora Studies program, said that future undergraduate classes are likely to be less racially diverse at predominantly white institutions across the country. “I find it interesting,” Summers said, “that the same people who are advocating for making higher education institutions more diverse in terms of political viewpoints have no problem with making the student bodies at those universities less diverse in terms of race, socioeconomic background, life experiences, and so forth. As our student body becomes more racially and socioeconomically homogenous, I think ultimately our campus culture will become impoverished.”
Dean of Undergraduate Admission and Financial Aid Grant Gosselin said that the court’s decision is likely to have a negative impact on the efforts of the nation’s elite universities to enroll representative populations of students. “In recent decades, each of the states that have banned the consideration of race in college admission has seen measurable declines in the enrollment of students from underserved backgrounds,” Gosselin said. “The nation’s leading private universities are now likely to face these same challenges.” He expressed pride in the University’s work to increase the enrollment of underrepresented students at BC.
Indeed, this fall’s first-year class is the University’s most accomplished and racially diverse ever, with a record 38 percent of students identifying as AHANA, and 11 percent who are first-generation college students. These numbers reflect more than just a commitment to enrolling a diverse student body, Fr. Leahy noted in his statement. They also speak to the University’s investment in the education of students from under-resourced communities. As a need-blind institution, BC will continue to allocate millions of dollars to need-based undergraduate financial aid—including an expenditure of more than $166 million in 2023–2024—and through its academic support programs offered through BC’s Pine Manor Institute for Student Success. Fr. Leahy said that BC will also continue to prioritize diversity “by building on its strong relationships with schools and community-based organizations and through its membership in QuestBridge, a national nonprofit program that helps outstanding high-need students earn scholarships to attend top colleges and universities.” And next year, the University will open Messina College, a two-year residential program that will offer an associate’s degree program to approximately one hundred students each year, with the goal of preparing them to enroll in a bachelor’s degree program or begin their careers.
“The University,” Fr. Leahy said, “intends to remain faithful to its Jesuit, Catholic intellectual and religious heritage by enrolling talented, diverse students from across the United States and the world within the new parameters set by the court.”