With Affirmative Action Gone, Community Members Remain Hopeful in College Process

Outside the college counseling office. Photo by Olivia Brown. 

Forty years of legal precedent were overturned when the Supreme Court struck down race-based affirmative action in college admissions on June 29, making it illegal for colleges to consider an applicant’s race as a factor in admissions. 

In response to the Supreme Court’s decision, Director of the College Counseling Department Emily Livelli and High School Principal Yom Fox addressed the GDS community in an email on July 6. They outlined the school’s commitment to valuing each student’s identity and said, “We are troubled and disappointed” by the ruling. “We will work individually with each student to help them navigate this process and communicate their full selves within their college applications,” they added in the email. 

Livelli explained in an interview with the Bit that the college counseling office has been in communication with college admissions representatives. Colleges are doing what they can within the bounds of the current law to consider the totality of applicants’ experiences and identities, Livelli said.

Senior Abel Elias plans to make his racial identity known through his personal statement and activities list. “I can make it known that I am still applying as a person of color,” he said.

Tony Hollinger, the father of a GDS junior, was on the President’s Council on Diversity & Inclusion at American University from 2019-2020. He said that despite affirmative action being struck down, colleges still have ways “to consider the whole person as opposed to, say, just grades or test scores.” 

“I believe that many of the college counselors have really built very strong, supportive relationships with certain administrators and admissions officers on certain campuses,” Juanita Irving ’90, the parent of a GDS senior, said, mentioning Spelman College, the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Toronto. 

She thinks that GDS college counselors “will do their best to push very qualified students onto the campuses that they deserve the right to be on.” 

Sanjay Desai, the parent of two GDS seniors, told the Bit that he feels fortunate that the GDS college counseling department is committed to helping students navigate the effects of the decision. 

Desai, who is a professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins University, added that “the less access minorities have to college, then it immediately limits the pathway to professional schools.” He believes the decision will have a “dramatic effect” on diversity in medical schools, but that effect will be revealed some years down the line.

The nationwide debate about affirmative action has also sparked discussion nationwide and in the GDS community about the practice of legacy preference in college admissions. Following the ruling, selective institutions such as Wesleyan University, Virginia Tech and Carnegie Mellon University have eliminated legacy preferences. Still, many elite universities factor in legacy status when deciding whether to admit a student.

Irving said, “I never met a Black student at my Ivy League college who did not deserve to be there, and who did not have the academic abilities and skills.” She added that she has met “many lowly qualified legacy students who go there based on legacy.”

“There are a couple of aspects of legacy consideration that are poorly understood. One is the idea that this one factor, a student’s tie to an institution, is the reason that they are admitted,” Livelli said. “In many cases, colleges report that their legacy students have higher GPAs and test scores,” she added, saying two reasons for these higher grades and scores are generational wealth and privilege.