Shabazz is president of San Diego City College.
Last month, the U.S. Supreme Court made two major rulings: to overturn racial and ethnic preferences in college admissions and to block the Biden administration’s student loan forgiveness program. Both decisions will negatively affect community college students and my colleagues who work at San Diego City College. These decisions affirm why San Diego City College’s work toward social justice and educational equity is so important.
These Supreme Court rulings are more symbolic than anything else. When it comes to how many students were admitted because of affirmative action, we are talking at most about 3 percent to 6 percent of total enrollment at Ivy League colleges, compared to the larger number of White students, many of whom (15 percent to 20 percent, by some accounts) are believed to be either legacy or alumni admissions. Many of the Black and Latinx students who are impacted would likely still gain admission based solely on their academic achievement. Many of these students come from low- or moderate-income homes, more likely to be first generation, and attended public school. The path of these students to one of the nation’s elite or Ivy League colleges is often not as clearly defined or expected compared to their White, often affluent, counterparts. I am happy to see that a follow-up lawsuit challenging legacy admissions will shed broader awareness of affirmative action for affluent, often White, students who have been the real benefactors of unfair admissions policies. These rulings are as much about social class as they are about race.
Many educational leaders, including me as president of San Diego City College, disagree with the Supreme Court’s rulings. These decisions fail to acknowledge things like legacy admissions and other opportunities that affluent members of our society continue to have available to them. I am the first person in my family to attend college and gain admission into the University of California system due to affirmative action. Gaining access to a top 10 public college was possible because UC Davis specifically sought to expand opportunities to students, such as myself, who would not have otherwise considered attending UC.
We saw this firsthand in the college admissions scandals that rocked the nation beginning in 2019. Affluent and connected families were caught buying their child’s admission into several of the nation’s prestigious colleges and universities. Where was the Supreme Court then?
These rulings are especially hard for me to understand. As someone who spent most of my career working in college admissions, I have seen the negative impacts of Proposition 209 and other similar attempts to ignore the role that race and poverty play in the inequalities that persist in our country’s educational system.
History often repeats itself. Martin Luther King Jr.’s 1967 book, “Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community?” captures terribly similar efforts to slow down progress toward achieving equality that occurred after the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. King wrote, “The persistence of racism in depth and the dawning awareness that (Black Americans) demands will necessitate structural changes in society have generated a new phase of white resistance in (the) North and South.” He asserted that apathy often sets in after progressive Americans perceive some level of achievement toward equality as they seek to distance themselves from racist acts such as the attacks that regularly occurred during the Civil Rights Movement, or more recently, killings we’ve witnessed of Michael Brown, Sandra Bland, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd and many others.
King draws several parallels to what he described as the next phase beyond the social uprising. He believed that the aftermath of social or civil uprisings resulted in higher levels of apathy regarding diversity, equity and inclusion once moderate Americans believed that advancements toward equality was in some way achieved. During these times, like with these matters, we saw Black Americans demand better jobs, higher wages, decent housing and access to better educational opportunities, equal to that of White people or the middle class.
San Diego City College will continue to serve 100 percent of the students who apply. We will continue to work toward social justice and educational equity. We will continue to work toward offering more bachelor’s degrees so that all students have access to a high-quality, affordable education that leads to careers that grant them entry into the middle class and beyond.
San Diego City College plays a key role in countering the policies and structures that negatively impact our students’ ability to achieve the American dream. History is indeed repeating itself and as King wrote, we indeed must decide where we go from here: chaos or community.