BSE Dean Michelle D. Young: Reflection and call to action on U.S. Supreme Court decision on affirmative action

Michelle Young
June 30, 2023

It’s a shame that our nation’s highest judicial body decided to take away a powerful mechanism for balancing a higher education system that privileges the privileged.

My experience with higher education leadership and in working with the U.S. military has palpably demonstrated how powerful a well-functioning affirmative action policy can be for enabling the progression of exceptional people of all backgrounds into positions of leadership — positions that have historically been inaccessible due to systemic racism. A number of legal scholars, among them Cheryl Harris, who wrote Whiteness as Property, have highlighted the uneven playing field and the essential role that tools like affirmative action can play in achieving a more level playing field.

While the U.S. Supreme Court's recent decision on affirmative action was a huge blow to equity in higher education, it is not an insurmountable blow. 

Affirmative action is just one tool in our toolbox. Many institutions — including UC Berkeley — have been finding ways to dismantle historical inequities and work toward greater diversity in higher education to benefit all students and society. As UC Berkeley Associate Vice Chancellor of Enrollment Femi Ogundele reminded us, the ruling means we have to work harder for diversity. ”Merely talking about a commitment to diversity will not be enough," he said. 

This ruling is not the end of the story. Our work for diversity, equity, inclusion, belonging, and justice is more important today than ever before, and this decision underscores the urgency of putting our minds and hearts together to overcome persistent injustice and racial inequality that hurt all students and communities.