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'UNC has a long way to go': University students react to affirmative action arguments

Protesters gather outside of the Supreme Court of the United States before oral arguments in Students for Fair Admissions, Inc. vs. the University of North Carolina on Monday, Oct. 31, 2022.

Students for Fair Admissions, Inc. v. University of North Carolina was heard by the Supreme Court of the United States on Monday, after eight years of lower court decisions and appeals.

The case focuses on affirmative action in college admissions — the practice of considering an applicant's race as a factor in admission decisions. 

Students for Fair Admissions argued that affirmative action should no longer be a part of the admissions process. The group is also suing Harvard College, which faced oral arguments on Monday following UNC-CH.

This morning, students from around the country gathered in front of the Supreme Court steps to express their views on affirmative action. Holding signs and wearing teal shirts that read “Defend Diversity,” students from both Harvard and UNC-CH gave speeches and rallied in support of race being considered in college admissions.

UNC first-year Christina Huang is one of the four co-leaders of UNC for Affirmative Action, a student-led organization. She made the 270-mile drive from Chapel Hill, N.C. to Washington D.C., to stand up for affirmative action alongside other UNC students. She said that coming to defend affirmative action was very significant to her as a student. 

“Affirmative action is important,” Huang said. “It’s the reason why UNC-CH has its diversity, why it has its culture, why I came to UNC. We need to preserve these opportunities of equal education and experiences of diversity and culture on campus for future students.”

Huang and UNC sophomore Joy Jiang — another co-leader of the club —  both spoke at the rally alongside representatives from the The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. The committee works to represent a diverse group of students from both UNC-CH and Harvard throughout the ongoing lawsuit. 

UNC alumnus Star Wingate-Bey, who graduated in 2016, is a student intervener for the committee. In her role, Wingate-Bey has shared her firsthand experiences as a student of color with the public over the past six years. 

She said that SFFA's argument does not include testimonials from actual clients or BIPOC students on campus.  

“The angle that we're taking is: here are all of our stories,” she said. “Here are students of color who have these lived experiences. Let them share their stories. Let them testify. And let's get it really on the record of what it's like to be on a campus — a predominantly white campus — as a student of color.” 

As a student of color who walked on UNC’s campus while the Silent Sam statue was still standing, Wingate-Bey said that remaining hints of confederacy and racism on campus made her feel silenced and undervalued. 

“I think UNC has a long way to go,” she said. “I would be disappointed if something like the overruling of affirmative action halts progress that they have made in creating a more safe and inclusive campus.”

Many of the students who were present said they are worried to see what the future decision brings if SFFA wins the case. 

Wingate-Bey said that if affirmative action is overturned, it will not only impact incoming students but also current students who may no longer “see themselves in their fellow classmates.”

This concern arises from the potential lack of diversity at universities if race is no longer a factor to consider throughout the admissions process.  

“If they overturn 40 years of precedent in affirmative action, my fear would be way less diversity on campus,” Wingate-Bey said. “And my prediction would be that retention rates and graduation rates of students of color would plummet.”

UNC-CH Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz, who was present at the Supreme Court, said that he will not be speculating on the outcome, but that he was impressed with the court’s arguments today. 

“We've also today made a strong case, I believe, for the values of a public institution like the University of North Carolina, in that we recognize that one of the fundamental values of our institution is diversity,” he said in a press conference this afternoon. 

The court will likely not release a decision until 2023, and applications to the universities submitted for admissions next year will not be affected by the outcome of the case, Associate Justice Brett Kavanaugh said during the hearing. 


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