BC community reacts to Supreme Court ruling on affirmative action
Boston College administrators, faculty, and students offered strong reactions to the June 29 United States Supreme Court ruling that struck down affirmative action, ending the long-established precedent of colleges and universities using race as a factor in their admissions decisions.
Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. issued the decision for the majority, which included Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel A. Alito Jr., Neil M. Gorsuch, Brett M. Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett. “The student must be treated based on his or her experiences as an individual — not on the basis of race,” Roberts wrote. “Many universities have for too long done just the opposite. And in doing so, they have concluded, wrongly, that the touchstone of an individual’s identity is not challenges bested, skills built, or lessons learned but the color of their skin. Our constitutional history does not tolerate that choice.”
University President William P. Leahy, S.J., issued a statement calling the Court’s ruling a frustrating departure from a decades-long judicial precedent. “Consideration of race in admissions decisions has enabled higher education institutions like Boston College to identify, enroll, and graduate talented students from diverse racial groups.
“Boston College has greatly benefited from a student body of varied backgrounds, which has enriched intellectual discourse and social life on our campus,” Fr. Leahy said in his statement. This fall’s incoming first-year class is BC’s most accomplished and racially diverse ever, with a record 39 percent of students identifying as AHANA and 11 percent who are first-generation college students.
According to the statement, “The University 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.”
BC will accomplish this, “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.”
As a need-blind institution, BC also will maintain its commitment to underrepresented students by allocating 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. Next year, the University will open Messina College, a two-year residential program “that will provide a pathway to higher education and increased opportunities for approximately 100 students each year.”
The post-affirmative action landscape “will pose significant challenges in student recruitment and enrollment for all colleges and universities,” the statement concluded, “but 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, a long-time Supreme Court analyst and expert, criticized the Court’s ruling. “The Court doesn’t seem to understand higher education. It is not just about a simplistic notion of merit, based on scores and grades. Places like Boston College aspire to educate the whole person, and we craft our student community in a way that embodies our commitments to a holistic education, in service of others. The Court’s ruling imposes its simplistic version of meritocracy onto hundreds of schools like Boston College that are committed to a more holistic view of students and education.”
For mission-driven schools like BC, said Greenfield, “a diverse student body is essential. Diversity of all kinds—racial, sexual, socio-economic, 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.”
Former Vice Provost for Enrollment Management John L. Mahoney, who recently retired after four decades as a key architect for BC’s undergraduate admission and enrollment, said he was “saddened” by the Court’s decision, recalling the “commitment to the value of diversity” he witnessed among his colleagues when he joined the Office of Undergraduate Admission in 1984, but the appreciation for diversity was evident throughout the University, he added, including among undergraduates.
“I've heard students say time and again that perspectives from different socioeconomic, religious, and ethnic backgrounds inevitably enrich their understanding. It helps them to become broader and deeper thinkers in a complex world,” said Mahoney, who predicted that Undergraduate Admission will redouble its efforts to recruit students from low socioeconomic backgrounds, while relying on partnerships with QuestBridge and other community organizations to continue attracting a diverse pool of applicants.
“I'm confident that our review of applications has been rigorous and holistic. That said, we'll need to be vigilant as we move forward to ensure that our process is compliant with this ruling,” Mahoney said.
Dean of Undergraduate Admission and Financial Aid Grant Gosselin said 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 underrepresented backgrounds,” he said. “The nation’s leading private universities are now likely to face these same challenges.
“We are proud of the strides we have made in increasing the enrollment of underrepresented students at Boston College. We will continue to work within the law while remaining steadfast in our commitment to enroll students from a wide range of backgrounds and talents. We will leverage the strong connections we have developed with high schools, community-based organizations, and non-profit partnerships to ensure that students throughout the country and around the world view Boston College as a welcoming and inclusive community.”
Boisi Professor of Education and Public Policy Henry Braun predicted the decision is likely to have an adverse effect on BC’s continued efforts to enroll a more diverse student body.
“But one approach is to be more explicit about what types of diversity are most aligned with BC’s mission, and then devise recruitment and retention strategies that best address those goals,” added Braun, director of the Center for the Study of Testing, Evaluation, and Educational Policy. “On a broader level, the decision will exacerbate political divisions, but perhaps in non-traditional ways.”
Professor of History Martin Summers, director of the African and African Diaspora Studies program, said it is “reasonable to assume” that future undergraduate classes are likely to be less racially diverse at predominantly white institutions across the U.S.
“I find it interesting 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,” he said. “As our student body becomes more racially and socioeconomically homogenous, I think ultimately our campus culture will become impoverished.”
BC undergraduates expressed concern over the end of affirmative action, especially in the domain of higher education.
“Affirmative action has allowed admissions officers to look into your story as a whole person,” said Osasenaga Owens ’24, former president of the BC African Students Organization. While academic merit is an important factor in college admissions, he said, it is vital to consider how standardized tests have historically “not been gauged” toward people of color.
“We must have the grace to understand that a person is more than the test score they earned on a particular Saturday,” said Owens, a Randolph, Mass., native, who majors in accounting for finance and consulting and minors in philosophy. “Race has to play into difficult conversations like this one, because the racial opportunity and wealth gap has been part of this country’s story from its founding.”
Jarvis Nellums-Goosby ’24, a political science major from Houston, called the elimination of affirmative action “a significant setback in the ongoing pursuit of equality and the dismantling of systemic barriers.” As one of the first in his neighborhood to attend an elite national university like BC, Nellums-Goosby said he deeply appreciates and values the opportunities he has received in the era of affirmative action.
“When I return home, inspiring and encouraging young people to aim high, apply to prestigious universities, and pursue opportunities becomes a priority,” he said. “Policies like affirmative action play a crucial role in turning these dreams into reality. While an ideal world might render such policies unnecessary, the historical context mandates the need to address existing disparities and level the playing field.”
The impact of affirmative action goes well beyond higher education, noted Roshanie Alfred ’26, pointing out that companies and organizations depend on top universities to recruit a well-rounded set of candidates.
“Students are the next generation and will pave the path into the future,” said Alfred, a Bronx, N.Y., native majoring in finance and philosophy. “If we aren’t being thoughtful about the admissions process, we’ll lose the diversity of ideas that make technological and social advancements possible. Universities and organizations can’t limit themselves to one segment of society, or there will be no breakthroughs.”
All photos, except for Kent Greenfield's, are by Lee Pellegrini.