Last week, the Supreme Court officially prohibited colleges from using race as a factor in their admissions processes. This decision, though not a surprise, still feels like a gut punch for this social entrepreneur who has spent the last 20 years of her life advocating for a higher education system that is more accessible, affordable, equitable, and relevant. While it is clear that Black and Brown students lost a crucial battle as a result of the Court’s decision, what is even clearer to me, especially as we celebrate Independence Day, is that America will lose a lot more. In this moment, both our cohesion as a nation and our economic position in the world are facing enormous challenges. It is the worst imaginable time for policies that tell a large swath of our young people that their talents are expendable.
This issue strikes a deeply personal chord for me, in part, because I remember vividly the profound impact of knowing that my contributions mattered—to my family, my college, and the world.
I will never forget my first day at Dartmouth. I had traveled from inner-city Boston to Hanover, N.H., and although we had only driven a mere 126 miles north, it felt like I had landed in a different country. Because I was the first in our family to go to college, we arrived 10 cars deep; a caravan that included my mom, dad, grandmother, younger sister, and so many other members of my village. That journey was made possible by my family’s unending support and limitless sacrifices, my hard work, several lucky breaks, and Dartmouth’s holistic admissions process. The institution considered my race, in addition to my family’s socio-economic status, my high school academic record, a perfect score on the AP English exam, and my numerous extracurricular and community service activities. Dartmouth’s consideration of my history (of which my racial identity is an important component) and the backgrounds of students whose stories are like mine, helped create a richer and more impactful learning community for all students.
Despite the significant progress we’ve made in our efforts to increase access to higher education, whether or not a student enters and completes college is still far too dependent on the color of their skin. This is not an accidental outcome but the impact of a higher education system that was designed to compound privilege, opening the path of opportunity for a select few and closing it for many others. Affirmative action and race-conscious admissions strategies were established precisely to address the systemic racism and exclusionary practices responsible for the disparities in admission and graduation rates among Black and Brown students.
Every day at Beyond 12, our team works with incredibly talented and creative young people—young people who have attended under-resourced high schools; young people who have overcome the low expectations others had set for them and still had the courage and tenacity to apply to college; young people who don’t have a family member who has experienced college or parents who can make a significant contribution to their alma maters. And we help them open doors and walk through them because they matter, their education matters, and they deserve to pursue their talents wherever they may lead them. Their genius, ingenuity, and leadership are vital to the future of our nation. Now more than ever.
To the Black and Brown students across the country who continue to dream of a college degree that will empower you to provide for your loved ones, make meaningful contributions to society, and lead choice-filled lives, we stand with you. We are prepared to channel even more energy and resources into your college journey because you matter, and your contributions to this country matter.
To our partners who have worked tirelessly alongside us to advance opportunities for historically marginalized students, our work continues. Together, we will redesign a higher education system that is deserving of admitting and supporting the diverse leaders who will shape our future.
This week, the road we’ve asked our young people to travel got steeper, the rocks along the way sharper and more slippery. But, rest assured, we will not falter. As President Obama once said, "The path that this country has taken has never been a straight line.” When we lose, he said, “We brush ourselves off, we get back in the arena, we go at it. We try even harder the next time.”
Damn right, we will.
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