Without a doubt, much of the energy on our campuses is devoted to things that feel like the future, such as technology and globalization. My own hope is that we will attend with equal passion to the unfinished business of the present and the past—in particular, our commitment to affirmative action.
Legal challenges to affirmative action continue, even challenges to the careful use of race as one of many factors we consider in the holistic assessment of applicants to our colleges. The good news is that the Supreme Court, up to now at least, has endorsed the concept that racially diverse student bodies bring educational benefits to all. Yet troubling to me is the same court’s insistence that this is the only legitimate, Constitutional reason to consciously build racially diverse student bodies.
To be sure, our admission policies and practices will always abide by whatever legal limits are placed on us. But I believe it important that our colleges heed not only the educational but also the moral imperative for race-conscious affirmative action.
The moral argument has played little role of late in the national discussion. The assumption seems to be that racism in society has ended, so there are no ongoing barriers to people of color in reaching the full potential that they deserve and that our society needs for them to attain. Yet it’s a plain fact of American life that more than a century after the Civil War, and half a century after the Civil Rights Movement and the Voting Rights Act, anti-Black racism remains a particularly persistent infection in our society. The lived experience of African-Americans is profoundly affected by racism, from the grinding, pernicious consequences of being followed around stores or hearing car doors lock as they walk by, to the broad social impact of racially disparate sentencing practices.
Racism has not ended. This means that practicing, and advocating for, race-conscious affirmative action must remain priorities for our colleges if we are to fulfill our obligation to serve the public good.
Adam Falk, President, Williams College