Smith College’s Reaction to Supreme Court’s Upholding of Affirmative Action of UT Austin

Sunnie Yi Ning ’18
Assistant News Editor

On Thursday, June 26, the Supreme Court rejected Abigail Fisher’s challenge to the University of Texas at Austin’s racial-conscious admission program. In a 4-3 vote, the justices upheld right to use race as a factor in admissions policies for the purpose of diversifying student bodies. This was a great encouragement to supporters of affirmative action, who emphasize the importance of addressing the needs of students of color, women and other historically disadvantaged minorities. The decision was significant because it came at a time when the value of affirmative action was doubted.

Smith College has for a long time embraced a racial-conscious admission program. In December 2015, Smith signed two amicus briefs in support of the University of Texas. The two briefs argue that private, highly selective colleges have a compelling educational interest in enrolling broadly diverse (including racially diverse) classes, and that the education goals are consistent with efforts to advance economic success.

Dwight Hamilton, vice president for inclusion, diversity and equity, said that the college signed the amicus briefs because “Smith believes that colleges and universities should consider race as part of looking at the whole individual — in the same way that we look at their participation in a sport, for example, or their commitment to public service, and we wanted to advocate for that practice.”

He also cited one of Smith’s core values as the reason why the Supreme Court decision was important for Smith. This value affirms Smith’s goal “to access and diversity, recruiting and supporting talented, ambitious women of all backgrounds.”

However, not everyone appreciates Smith’s racial-conscious admission policies. In August, two letters two letters from faculty members of the Smith College School for Social Work to college administrators were leaked. Both accused Smith to admit students without qualifications. Both letter complained that social work program has a “tainted” admissions process that “offer differential outcomes to students of color” in which some of those admitted “did not have a reasonable chance of success in our program.”

Hamilton believes that Smith is on the right track for diversity inclusion at the admission level. He notes that Smith has had some of the most diverse entering student classes in the past few years. He also says that in the process of hiring faculty for the 2016-17 academic year, Smith “is implementing inclusive recruitment and selection practices, and being intentional at every stage of the hiring process to attract a diverse pool of faculty candidates.”

When asked if he thought Smith was doing enough for diversity and equity regards to the campus culture, Hamilton replied that Smith has made significant progress. He said that most work has been done in policies, practices and procedures and the focus is now on “partnering with students, staff and faculty to foster a campus culture that is inclusive and equitable” — such as conducting training on creating inclusive spaces, building community among underrepresented groups and fostering accessibility, wellness and mental health. The college collaborates with students through the Student Advisory Board, Inclusion Council, Campus Climate Working Group and many more. The college will also launch the Pathways Campus Climate Survey to get direct feedback from all members.

Many Smith students are already aware of the need for more diversity support on campus. They make their voices heard in many ways. In the past, students have chosen to engage in diversity initiatives such as dialogues about Islamophobia, meetings about white privilege and a sit-in in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, to name a few. President McCartney in the Spring 2016 Smith Alumnae Quarterly said, “This generation [of students] is raising real and important issues about inequities on our campuses and in society at large.”

However, not everyone appreciates Smith’s racial-conscious admission policies. In August, two letters two letters from faculty members of the Smith College School for Social Work to college administrators were leaked. Both accused Smith to admit students without qualifications. Both letter complained that social work program has a “tainted” admissions process that “offer differential outcomes to students of color” in which some of those admitted “did not have a reasonable chance of success in our program.”

The letters were perceived by many as being racially biased. It sparked anger and frustration among students, and resulted in a student protest in front of Seelye Hall on Aug. 16. Marianne Yoshioka, the school’s dean, later responded that she also condemned the letters, saying they, “do not represent our school” and “do not advance — in fact they undermine — our work as a community.”

 

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