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The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


SCOTUS affirmative action decision to alter UW admissions process

Admissions officers can still consider how race affects individual applicants, WILL attorney says
Bennett Waara
Badger Herald archival photo of Bascom Hall. March 8, 2024.

University of Wisconsin’s class of 2028 will be the first class admitted after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned affirmative action last June in the Students for Fair Admissions v. President and Fellows of Harvard College decision.

The court ruled that affirmative action in college admissions was unconstitutional and in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment.

But, the decision does allow for admissions offices to consider “an applicant’s discussion of how race affected the applicant’s life, so long as that discussion is concretely tied to a quality of character or unique ability that the particular applicant can contribute to the university.”


In a statement issued June 29, 2023, UW Chancellor Jennifer Mnookin shared insights into a growing body of research that suggests diverse groups tend to make stronger decisions. But, the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling requires modifications to UW’s current admissions process in order to be in compliance to the law, according to the statement.

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Over the past 10 years, the percentage of white students admitted to UW has decreased from 55.3% in 2014 to 41.2% in 2023, according to a trends report on UW freshmen enrollment. There have also been noticeable jumps in the admission of other races with the percentage of Black students admitted increasing from 29.5% to 50.8% during the same time period.

Removing affirmative action may limit diversity and promote unjust barriers against minority groups, Wisconsin Sen. Melissa Agard (D-Madison) said. Affirmative action policies help invest in the safety and future of all university graduates, Agard said.

“[Admissions without affirmative action] would be tragic,” Agard said. “We know that colleges and universities, because of the Supreme Court overturning affirmative action last June, are being negatively impacted in the fact that they can no longer consider race when admitting prospective students to their university.”

The Supreme Court’s decision will likely interfere with universities’ interest in diversity, equity and inclusion, Dan Lennington, who is deputy counsel at The Equality Under the Law Project, an initiative by the conservative law group Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty. Universities will have to approach diversity from other perspectives, he said.

Lennington said universities can still provide opportunities to disadvantaged or underrepresented applicants by considering how their experiences have shaped their lives.

“I think what they can do is evaluate applicants as individuals,” Lennington said. “To determine whether an individual has encountered a hardship in that person’s life might be due to racism or it might be due to economic factors or where they’re from or their families.”

Future lawsuits are likely if universities try to circumvent the ban using proxies for race in admissions, such as socioeconomic factors or zip codes, Lennington said. There have already been lawsuits against BIPOC scholarships at UW and the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty has filed a lawsuit against the State of Wisconsin over race-based scholarships, which is currently pending in court, Lennington said.

This court order is especially important for future generations and college students specifically, Lennington said.

U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona told Inside Higher Ed in August 2023 that when individual states have banned affirmative action, fewer students of color applied and fewer were admitted.

After Michigan banned affirmative action in 2006, the University of Michigan’s Black student population fell from 7% in 2006 to 4% in 2022, despite Michigan’s high school student population being 17% Black, according to an article from the NAACP.

Notably, affirmative action can include identities other than race, Agard said. It took into account whether applicants were veterans, single parents and first generation college students, Agard said.

Having people with different backgrounds on campus provides a more robust experience for both students and professional staff, Agard said. There’s a harmful narrative that people of color are only on campuses because of diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives — these stereotypes negatively impact the quality of life for students and staff  of color who work on campus, Agard said.

Opinions on affirmative action among the public vary, with 50% of U.S. adults saying they disapprove of colleges and universities considering prospective students’ racial and ethnic backgrounds in admissions, according to the Pew Research Center. While 57% of white adults disapprove of racial consideration in admissions, only 29% of Black adults disapprove, the Pew Research Center reported.

It’s necessary that the public works to create a strong and supportive environment in the UW system so students on campuses believe they belong, Agard said.

“[We must make sure] that we’re providing opportunities for the best and the brightest to participate in and to be able to give those gifts back through their professional careers after they walk across the stage and accept their diploma,” Agard said.

Republican legislators in Wisconsin have already spoken out against certain DEI initiatives, Agard said. In January, Republican lawmakers proposed an amendment to the Wisconsin State Constitution that would to prohibit government entities, including the UW System, from discriminating against or giving preferential treatment based on race and ethnicity in public education or employment, according to Assembly Joint Resolution 109.

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The resolution was adopted 62–35 and is now awaiting a decision from the Wisconsin State Senate.

Agard said Wisconsinites should vote for representatives that represent their values — including those related to DEI initiatives — in the upcoming spring 2024 election.

“2024 is going to be an unprecedented year for elections in Wisconsin and across the nation,” Agard said. “The number one thing is to vote your values, do your research … [if] the people on your ballot aren’t going to be held accountable then consider running for office.”

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