A man standing in front of the Supreme Court at night
Long after dark on Sunday, Oct. 30, Dean of Admission and Financial Aid Matthew McGann arrived at the U.S. Supreme Court and joined the snaking line outside. He knew he’d be there all night. It was his best chance of securing one of several dozen seats available to the public to observe the next day’s proceedings. On the docket were oral arguments for two cases that question the legality of “race-conscious” admissions in higher education: one against the University of North Carolina, the other against Harvard.

Amherst—as well as McGann and President Michael A. Elliott—had already publicly supported using race as one factor among many in a holistic admissions process: This summer the College initiated and coordinated an amicus curiae brief arguing that a racially diverse student body is a “compelling interest” of liberal arts colleges. But McGann wanted to be there in person when the lawyers—including North Carolina Solicitor General Ryan Park ’05, who defended UNC’s practices—made their arguments.

When he took his seat at 1:30 p.m. the next day, McGann had been standing for 15 hours in 50-degree temperatures.

Fifteen hours is a long time to be in line. Did you bring a chair or sleeping bag?

I didn’t, because I wanted to travel light: You’re not allowed to bring many things into the courtroom. There were people in line who had inflatable mattresses, yoga mats and suitcases. I mostly stood the whole time.

You were still in line throughout the morning hearing. I missed getting in by a couple of seats. I was 53rd in line. Fortunately, 13 people left the room after the break, and I made it in.

Why did you want to be there in person?

I thought it was important to represent and be present for the College, the admission profession and myself. It is not a time to be shy about values. A diverse student body is a core element of our community. Education is better when we bring together people with different backgrounds and different perspectives. Our holistic admission process, which has allowed us to consider all aspects of a student’s identity—race and ethnicity being two of many—is what has enabled us to bring together our incredible College community.

Do you have a personal interest as well?

I am a first-gen student who grew up in a relatively small town. Attending a diverse college [MIT] opened my eyes to the broader world and to what can happen when you make friends of many different backgrounds and perspectives. I learned firsthand the transformative power of not just a college education but also education in a diverse community. It made me a better person, a better citizen. I want as many students as possible to have that same transformative experience.