U.S. Bishops react to Supreme Court's ruling on affirmative action
By Lisa Zengarini
Following a recent landmark decision by the Supreme Court of the United States ruling out affirmative action in higher education, several Catholic universities and the U.S. Bishops’ Conference (USCCB) have joined in upholding the importance of education access for marginalized racial groups.
Affirmative action in higher education in the U.S.
On June 29, the nation’s highest court ruled in two distinct cases involving admissions at Harvard and the University of North Carolina (UNC) that race can no longer be considered a factor in university admissions, overturning decades-old policies on so-called positive discrimination.
Affirmative action first made its way into U.S. policy in the 1960s during the Civil Rights Movement and has been defended as a measure to increase racial diversity in universities and to improve the social position of Afro-Americans.
However, opponents to these policies have argued that affirmative action in elite universities promotes the admission of certain ethnic minorities at the expense of others, often negatively impacting Asian students, and is therefore in itself discriminatory.
In the latest ruling, the Supreme Court judges, who in the past had backed affirmative action programmes at U.S. universities on two occasions (most recently in 2016), admitted these arguments.
Disappointment of several Catholic universities
The decision will impact all universities across the country, including Catholic institutions, several of which expressed their disappointment over the ruling, saying it undermines efforts to solve racial discrimination, and reiterating they will continue to value diversity among their student bodies.
According to the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities (ACCU), the judges’ decision ignores “the more-than-apparent effects of continued racism in our society.”
Making higher education accessible to the most disadvantaged
For their part, the U.S. bishops have reaffirmed the crucial importance of making higher education accessible to the most disadvantaged in society.
“Education is a gift, an opportunity, and an important aspect of our democracy that is not always within the reach of all, especially racial and ethnic groups who find themselves on the margins,” Bishop Joseph Perry, chairman of the Bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee Against Racism said in a statement. “It is our hope that our Catholic institutions of higher learning will continue to find ways to make education possible and affordable for everyone, regardless of their background.”
In the statement, Bishop Perry recalled the words of St. Katharine Drexel, a pioneer in Catholic education cited by the US Bishops in their pastoral letter ‘Open Wide Our Hearts: The Enduring Call to Love’: “If we wish to serve God and love our neighbour as well, we must manifest our joy in the service we render to Him and them. Let us open wide our hearts. It is joy which invites us. Press forward and fear nothing.”
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