Content warning: This article contains mention of sexual assault.
As many individuals await the decision of Students for Fair Admissions Inc. v. The University of North Carolina, some students are taking action to raise awareness of affirmative action.
On Saturday morning in Carroll Hall, the Affirmative Action Coalition hosted the Diversity at Carolina event. Several student organizations met with a representative of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, a group of lawyers that work to address societal inequities that people of color face, to discuss affirmative action policy and diversity, equity and inclusion efforts at UNC.
The Lawyers’ Committee represented UNC in the Students for Fair Admissions (SFFA) v UNC Supreme Court case that was heard last October. This case concerns the two lawsuits against UNC and Harvard College filed by SFFA, alleging that UNC’s admissions processes violate the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
The Affirmative Action Coalition was joined by campus organizations including the Carolina Indian Circle, Vietnamese Student Association and Asian American Students Association at Saturday's event. They welcomed Mayah Lubin, higher education equity senior coordinator of the Lawyers’ Committee, to provide hands-on learning opportunities through panels and open conversation.
Many students are worried about what a ruling in the Supreme Court case could mean for the future of race-conscious admissions.
“UNC being one of the two schools that’s being sued in the affirmative action case is not only a huge deal for diversity on our campus, but it really sets a precedent to be able to overturn race-conscious admissions for all public universities across the U.S. if we don’t get the outcome that we want,” Sarah Zhang, internal affairs chairperson of the Affirmative Action Coalition said.
They said the purpose of the Diversity at Carolina event was to bridge different on-campus organizations to discuss how diversity is important to each of their respective communities. They also said the Affirmative Action Coalition is excited to be collaborating with groups like the Black Student Movement and Carolina Indian Circle.
“It’s such a great way to bring these organizations together,” Zhang said. “I feel like there aren’t a lot of events that really do that.”
Lubin opened the event with an introduction of her background as the first Black female student body president at Mississippi State University, followed by a history of the Lawyers’ Committee and its role in preserving affirmative action.
She said that in the fight to ensure that campuses remain equitable, inclusive and diverse, the voices of student leaders are the most compelling.
“As the nation’s oldest public institution, this place needs to be setting an example, and you all can hold this institution to that,” Lubin said in her speech. “And let them know that there is no excellence without diversity, there is no excellence without equity.”
A panel of student leaders then spoke about whether they feel the University is upholding values of diversity. Among the topics discussed were the proposed School of Civic Life and Leadership, the renaming of residence halls, accessibility on campus and pressure on student leaders.
Joy Jiang, the on-campus outreach chairperson of the Affirmative Action Coalition, reiterated the importance of gathering as a student community to address these issues. She also said that creating demands forces the University to listen and act on them.
“I think that’s our goal today — to try and have that kind of strong, unbreakable voice to acknowledge on campus,” Jiang said.
In small groups, attendees of the event then discussed challenges faced in five different aspects of UNC: recruitment and admissions, safety, basic student needs, academics and campus community.
Groups then shared some of these challenges, which included the lack of Indigenous representation among students and faculty, frustration with campus mental health services, on-campus sexual assault and uncertainty surrounding funding for student organizations.
“It’s important to understand what other communities are facing on this campus and how you can support each other,” Lubin said.
With these challenges, Lubin then encouraged attendees to brainstorm possible solutions. She cited her creation of a President’s Commission on the Status of Minorities during her tenure as student body president at Mississppi State as an example of leveraging student leadership. Another idea considered was the partnership between student coalitions and community organizations, including The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People or the American Civil Liberties Union.
To close out the event, Lubin connected the conversation back to affirmative action. She said that regardless of the Supreme Court’s decision, universities should put comprehensive efforts to ensure equity on campuses into place.
“We’re not fighting for affirmative action with these demands," Lubin said. "This agenda you’re coming up with, you’re saying, ‘We value diversity, whether we have affirmative action or not, this is important to us.' And these are the comprehensive measures that this institution needs to be thinking about to make sure that we have a diverse and equitable place.”
Lubin said the Supreme Court’s decision on affirmative action should be expected in June.
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