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First class of students apply to UNC since Supreme Court ruled against affirmative action

20231031_cox_university-affirmative-action-update
Elsa Landeros, a co-president of Mi Pueblo, poses for a portrait at the Carolina Latinx Center on Oct. 31, 2023. Mi Pueblo is a UNC community organization that raises awareness about Latinx issues and culture, like the recent ruling against affirmative action.

The prospective class of 2028 is the first group of students to apply for UNC after the U.S. Supreme Court June decision that ruled race-conscious university admissions programs unlawful.

Many prospective students have already applied — the Early Action deadline was Oct. 15. UNC's Regular Decision application deadline is Jan. 15, and the University won't begin to release any decisions until Jan. 31.

Earlier this fall, the UNC System provided guidance on how its schools should comply with the Supreme Court ruling in reviewing applications.

The System promotes race-blind admissions practices, avoiding using “proxies for race” and offers application review training in accordance with these changes, among other guidelines. 

The Daily Tar Heel obtained these guidelines. Read it here:

David Hinojosa, director of the Education Opportunities Project at the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Lawsaid the System's guidance is an "overreaction" to what the court's ruling calls for. The Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law represented students of UNC and Harvard University in the lawsuits brought by Students for Fair Admissions.

Elsa Landeros is the co-president of Mi Pueblo, a UNC community organization that raises awareness about Latinx issues and culture, according to their website. Landeros expressed concern about the ruling against affirmative action. 

“The efforts of affirmative action were to have a level playing field — but now it's not level, and historically, it has never been,” Landeros said. “I'm scared to see what's going to happen, but I don't think it's going to stop my determination to push forward and see our community grow."

 Christina Huang, student president of the Affirmative Action Coalition at UNC-Chapel Hill, also criticized the ruling.

“You're taking away the core of Carolina,” Huang said, “which is that we are diverse and we have people from a lot of different backgrounds coming together onto one campus.”

She said the coalition is currently collaborating with other student organizations on campus to organize an event next semester to advocate for students’ views on the ruling. Huang said she hopes to make change by making demands and calling out those in power, such as North Carolina state legislators and the Board of Trustees.

“We all talk about being a ‘flagship university' and a ‘tradition of excellence,'” she said. “I want to see that. I want to see them take action. I want them to do what they can do.”

Recent faculty discussion

Kara Simmons, associate vice chancellor and senior counsel for the University, said at a Sept. 8 Faculty Council meeting that UNC would remove race as a factor during any stage of the admissions process, including using race as a “benefit” for an applicant profile and the use of admissions to achieve diversity goals. 

“We will stay true to our mission at this university, and we’ll live out our values and continue to live our values in light of the Supreme Court decision,” Amy Hertel, executive vice provost for the University, said at the meeting. 

A working group of representatives from multiple UNC departments was charged over the summer with implementing these changes, according to UNC Media Relations.

“The working group is developing materials to inform and support those who participate in graduate or professional admissions decisions,” Media Relations said in an email to The Daily Tar Heel. “And aims to provide general guidance regarding recruitment and pipeline programs, as well as scholarships and funding."

Applying the ruling

Hinojosa said he thinks the UNC System is highly politicized and is taking a more conservative approach to interpreting the court’s ruling. 

In response to the decision, the BOT published a non-discrimination resolution in July, which states that the University can only consider merit, experience and qualifications for applicants. Trustee Marty Kotis said he supports the BOT's non-discrimination resolution

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“It's not really a policy, it's a protection,” Kotis said. “So the idea should be, for instance, if next year 100 percent of the best candidates that apply are women, then that's who should be admitted. There should be no social engineering beyond that.”

The Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law has not been providing legal guidance on UNC’s new admissions policies. Hinojosa said his organization has its views on how the ruling should be applied, and that it differs from how the System is currently offering guidance. 

“If you read the UNC System guidance, they do acknowledge that students can still lift up their experiences,” he said. “However, then they have contradictory language, in their opinion, that questions how universities might be able to do that and suggest that they may be opening themselves up to liability if they allow students the opportunity to discuss such in their applications.”

Debbie Willmschen, a private writing consultant who helps students edit college essays, said she believes this year’s UNC application questions are worded vaguely enough to allow students to fully discuss their identities, while also complying with the law and the System's guidance.

“They have a very generic question system that fits the law," Willmschen said. "And I think it’s also skirting the Board of Governors, to be quite honest.”

Charles E. Jordan High School senior Octavia Brown, who lives in Durham, said she wrote about her identity as a Black student in both of her UNC Early Action supplemental essays.

“It's a part of my identity,” she said. “And it's molded me into the person I am now, and ignoring that doesn't do me justice.”

Hinjosa also said he thinks the System’s guidance on considering race-neutral alternatives in admissions, such as socioeconomic status, is flawed. 

“The System's guidance seems to suggest that universities shouldn't bother with race-neutral alternatives, because they may open themselves up to liability, but that is flatly wrong,” he said. “Even Justice Thomas and Justice Kavanaugh in their concurring opinions allude to the fact that race-neutral alternatives are permissible.” 

Free tuition and mandatory fees program

Following the ruling, Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz announced UNC’s new free tuition and mandatory fees program for in-state families making under $80,000 annually. 

Sue Estroff, a professor of social medicine and a member of UNC's Faculty Executive Committee, said the program will work around the ruling to address inequity in education. 

“I thought it was a very canny, very thoughtful way to say, 'Okay, fine, you're not going to stop us. We're going to find other ways to both frame and define what the inequities in access are really about,’ and money is a big part,” she said

CORRECTION: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated when affirmative action was struck down. The Daily Tar Heel apologizes for this error.

@dailytarheel | university@dailytarheel.com

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