Court ruling hints at evolutionary process

Not much has changed with the Supreme Court ruling that the challenge to Texas’ affirmative action policy should go back to the lower court for “strict scrutiny” to be applied.  Strict scrutiny means that universities will have to show that non-race conscious strategies were tried to achieve diversity before having to utilize race-conscious policies. So where are we?

I’m struck by how much the language has changed over the past generation.  Back in the ’70’s, universities and other institutions applied quotas for racial representation in order to redress the wrongs of slavery and oppression.  Those were struck down as unconstitutional  in the Bakke case, and we spoke of affirmative action to reach out and include racially disadvantaged individuals.  Of course, we never fully resolved how you measure the results of affirmative action except by specific metrics.  But even affirmative action evolved in the last decade into seeking the goal of diversity.

Attitudinally, it seems to me, we have moved from righting old wrongs to recognizing that, in a global society, learning how to live with diverse races, cultures, generations, religions and sexual preferences is an important part of education – for everyone.  And fortunately the Supreme Court didn’t back away yesterday from the goal of diversity. The answer to the question of how you achieve it continues to evolve.

We have come a long way in more than linguistic terms.  Just look at the Boston experience.  We are now a majority minority city.  Half the valedictorians among the Hub’s recent graduates were foreign-born, faces of color from Haiti, El Salvador, Lebanon, Vietnam, Cape Verde, the Dominican Republic and beyond. They are hard workers, willing to do what it takes to make their mark and motivated to make a difference.  As they move on to college and careers, they will be eagerly sought by employers recognizing the value of diversity in their companies.  The workplace is already a much different place than it was a generation ago.

Preferences in the selection process were always meant to be transitional, giving the underrepresented a leg up at a time when there needed to be a conscious and focused attempt to erase bias.  One can foresee a time in the not too distant future when we don’t have to work so hard at it.  It will just happen.  We’re not quite there yet, just as we’re not quite there in the advancement of people of color, women, or poor whites for that matter.  But there’s a much broader awareness of how diversity of all kinds benefits everyone, an advantange to our educational and cultural lives as well as to the economy.  To be competitive, we need to tap the resources of every individual, regardless of the way they are packaged.  The Supreme Court’s nuanced approach makes sense today.

I welcome your thoughts in the section below.

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