The lawsuit was filed in 2014 by SFFA. SFFA argues that UNC discriminates against white and Asian applicants in favor of underrepresented minority applicants. SFFA seeks to remove race as a factor from UNC’s admissions process entirely, so that admissions will become race-neutral.
“Our argument is UNC places too great of emphasis on an applicant's race and ethnicity,” said SFFA President Edward Blum. “And they shouldn't even use race and ethnicity at all.”
UNC currently uses a race-conscious system, which means that a student’s race, along with other factors, such as location or socioeconomic status, are taken into account in the request for admission.
According to a memo of law filed by the University in January, UNC’s race-conscious policies are a part of a holistic admission process.
“It does not consider candidates of different racial backgrounds in separate groups; assign points or automatic plus factors to candidates because they are of a particular race; or use racial targets or quotas of any kind,” the document said.
SFFA believes that UNC can achieve racial diversity on campus without taking race into consideration when considering a student’s application. UNC argues that a race-neutral strategy would not ensure enrollment of underrepresented minority groups.
UNC is not the only school against which SFFA has filed a lawsuit. The group also sued Harvard University on the ground of discriminatory admissions practices. The Boston trial lasted three weeks, and a judge is expected to reach a final decision this year.
Blum said he was “disappointed” but “not surprised” that AASA voted to sign on to the brief. Despite the association’s decision, he said he believes many people across the country feel differently, citing a February survey by the Pew Research Center that found 73 percent of Americans believe race or ethnicity should not be factored into the admissions processes at colleges and universities.
“These lawsuits have exposed to the vast majority of Americans just how unfair and stigmatizing this is,” Blum said. “I’m sad that UNC’s Asian American Student Association has decided to sign the amicus brief. They’re out of step with what the vast majority of the rest of country thinks.”
As of August 2018, UNC had spent $16.8 million in relation to the lawsuit, according to the News & Observer.
On several different occasions, the Supreme Court has ruled to allow colleges and universities to consider race as a factor in their admissions processes.
In a brief released by UNC for the case, the school said that “University professors report that diversity promotes discovery and innovation and expands fields of inquiry. A diverse student body also improves students’ capacity to work effectively with others: exposure to diversity breaks down stereotypes, creates common understandings and encourages empathy."
Jessie Huang, senior advisor for AASA, said she believes greater transparency between students and the University could better address the needs of a diverse student body.
“I know running a university is not easy job, and there's obviously many groups with different needs,” Huang said. “That's one of the growing pains of having an increasingly diverse campus, but nevertheless it's still important to involve students before it blows up into an issue like this.”
Junior and President of AASA Anna Hattle reiterated that AASA’s decision to sign the amicus brief does not mean that she believes UNC’s admission policies are completely effective.
“Our point is rather to say that eliminating race-conscious admissions would be a step backward instead of a step forward in what should be considered,” Hattle said. “We're just trying to defend basically the bare minimum, but we do think that UNC has room to do more and to be better.”