In 1992, about one quarter of Amherst students self-identified as students of color. Thirty years later, that number has doubled.
One major reason for the increase? Members of the College’s admission team were able to consider race as a factor in their whole-person review of each application.
But what would happen if the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) declared that practice illegal? What would Amherst do to maintain such remarkable diversity?
This scenario is of course a real possibility, given that SCOTUS is currently deliberating on the constitutionality of what is called race-conscious admissions, and is expected to issue a decision about it in the spring. Without the Court’s decision in hand, said Dean of Admission and Financial Aid Matt McGann, it’s impossible to speculate on how he and his team will continue to recruit such diverse classes of students. One thing is for certain, though. “We’re going to do everything within the bounds of the law to continue to enroll classes that live up to Amherst’s mission and values.”
McGann articulated this commitment during a conversation on March 2 titled “The Future of Affirmative Action: Race-Conscious Admissions and the Supreme Court.” The event featured Ryan Park ’05, solicitor general of the state of North Carolina, who argued in favor of a holistic admissions process in Students for Fair Admissions v. the University of Carolina before the U.S. Supreme Court on Oct. 31. Moderated by Pawan Dhingra, associate provost and associate dean of the faculty and the Aliki Perroti and Seth Frank ’55 Professor of U.S. Immigration Studies, it attracted a rapt and somber crowd that filled the first floor of Johnson Chapel.
During the conversation, Park offered his legal perspective on race-conscious admissions and arguments made by his opposing counsel. One of those views was that the practice creates classifications under which certain race groups benefit over others, and this would be a clear violation of the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause. (That legislation, which was drafted after the Civil War, granted citizenship to formerly enslaved people, and guaranteed equal civil and legal rights to Black citizens, among other things.)