On Oct. 31, the U.S. Supreme Court is scheduled to hear arguments in two cases that are vitally important to the University of Connecticut, to higher education broadly, and to America’s ongoing commitment to building a more just and equitable society.
The cases concern challenges to decades-old legal precedent that establishes the right of universities to take a holistic approach to setting admissions policies in the service of building a diverse, welcoming student body. This approach includes the ability to consider the race and ethnicity of applicants to address deeply rooted structural racism.
Since 1978, when the ability to implement a holistic, race-conscious admissions process was affirmed in the Supreme Court decision Regents of the University of California v. Bakke, successive Courts have continued to uphold the constitutionality of this practice, most notably in 2003 and as recently as 2016, in the case Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin.
This is not only a question of principle. Evidence abounds of the practical, concrete benefits to American society of enabling students to learn in a diverse community where they benefit from a wide variety of experiences, ideas, and perspectives.
The students learning in our classrooms and experimenting in our laboratories today will soon be our doctors and nurses, our lawyers and accountants, the teachers of our children and the elected officials of our communities, the innovators and creative thinkers whose ideas and energy will bring positive change and growth to our society for decades to come.
Moreover, we know that the best way to build a vibrant and diverse student body is to use the tested, reliable methodology of the holistic admissions process. In states where race-conscious admissions processes have been banned, such as Texas and California, universities have struggled to maintain diverse student bodies, with even the number of Black and Latino applicants dropping precipitously since the bans were adopted.
Therefore, it is essential to UConn’s mission as a public university that we create and maintain a student body in which people of all races, ethnicities, and backgrounds can thrive.
Through the efforts of the Division of Enrollment Planning and Management, the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, and the individual schools and colleges that make up our university, we have made significant progress in this essential endeavor.
The Class of 2026, for instance, is the most diverse in the history of our institution. Forty-seven percent are students of color, and nearly 27% are from backgrounds historically underrepresented in higher education. This is not by accident, and it is not an anomaly: Prior to this year’s first-year students, the classes of 2024, 2023, and 2022 were successively the most diverse in university history.
Our ability to recruit and retain a diverse student population is drawn from a dynamic learning environment that prizes inclusion and equity across academic, social, and cultural spheres:
- Areas of study at UConn include Africana Studies, Human Rights, Judaic Studies, Latino and Latin American Studies, Urban and Community Studies, Asian and Asian American Studies, Native American and Indigenous Studies and Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies.
- Our seven cultural centers and programs offer a rich experience of education, leadership opportunities, and the chance to forge lifelong bonds among peers.
- Learning communities like ScHOLA²RS House, La Comunidad Intelectual, and WiMSE House create meaningful relationships with faculty mentors and peers, and provide a welcoming environment for deeper learning and student success.
- New initiatives across the university, such as the Office of Health Equity and Access to Care within Student Health and Wellness; the Vergnano Institute for Inclusion within the School of Engineering; the Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Research Initiative within the Office of the Vice President for Research; the Constance Belton Green Diversity fund within the School of Law; and the creation of a Chief Diversity Officer position at UConn Health all demonstrate the breadth and depth of our commitment to inclusion and equity for our students, faculty, and staff.
It is not merely our belief, but our experience as a university, that recruiting a diverse student body brings benefits to the entire institution, and to society at large. In the court’s 2016 majority opinion on Fisher v. Texas, Justice Kennedy references one of the earliest cases on race in admissions, writing:
“A university is in large part defined by those intangible ‘qualities which are incapable of objective measurement but which make for greatness.’ Sweatt v. Painter (1950). Considerable deference is owed to a university in defining those intangible characteristics, like student body diversity, that are central to its identity and educational mission. But still, it remains an enduring challenge to our Nation’s education system to reconcile the pursuit of diversity with the constitutional promise of equal treatment and dignity.”
Regardless of what the court ultimately decides in the two cases now before it, the commitment to that vital, unifying, and transformative diversity will remain one of our core values at UConn, and our actions – in admissions, in academics, in culture – will match our values. We have come too far as a university and as a country – and have further to go still – to abandon the progress which has been so painstakingly made.
Radenka Maric is the President of the University of Connecticut.