U.S. Supreme Court, Washington D.C. Elizabeth Hamilton / CT Mirror

Universities and colleges across Connecticut are vowing to protect diversity and opportunities for students of color in the wake of Thursday’s Supreme Court ruling that significantly weakens affirmative action — a practice many of these schools have used for years when considering prospective students.

The high court’s rejection of race-conscious admissions at Harvard University and University of North Carolina is expected to shake up how colleges and universities find ways to maintain diversity on their campuses through admissions and recruitment.

Like a number of other college officials around the state, Yale University President Peter Salovey said he strongly disagrees with the ruling but also noted that Yale will comply with the law. Prior to Thursday’s decision, Yale has been vocal about its support for affirmative action and filed a brief to the Supreme Court about it last year.

Salovey said university leaders will soon review all of their admissions policies and that Yale Law School will hold a panel discussion among legal experts for students and staff in September to talk about the ramifications of the ruling.

“We are strengthened by a higher education system that admits and graduates into the workforce diverse and excellent cohorts of students. To the extent today’s decisions impede progress in this regard, I believe they have done the nation a disservice,” Salovey said in a statement.

“In the coming months, deans of admissions and other university leaders will review Yale’s admissions policies to ensure that Yale College, the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, and every professional school comply with the law as interpreted by the Supreme Court,” he added.

Over the summer, Yale’s undergraduate school said it will build on and explore new programs through the lens of the court’s ruling. Pericles Lewis, dean of Yale College, and Jeremiah Quinlan, dean of undergraduate admissions and financial aid, said they would expand efforts to get students from under-resourced school districts to apply, support college prep programs for low-income and rural communities, and continue investments in need-based financial aid and the school’s four cultural centers.

Vern Granger, director of undergraduate admissions at the University of Connecticut, said his department has considered race and ethnicity as one of many factors in their applications process, though he noted that “race is not the sole determinant.” He said UConn will adhere to the law following Thursday’s ruling but added that he will keep holding conversations with students and others, as he has throughout the year, to help minimize any effects from the court’s decision.

“We’re going to be compliant with the law. But we’re making sure that our commitment to diversity does not wane,” Granger said in an interview, adding that UConn is “taking a look at our outreach strategies” and “making sure to mitigate any potential negative impact the decision could have.”

Wesleyan University President Michael Roth and Amin Abdul-Malik Gonzalez, vice president and dean of admission and financial aid, made many of the same commitments as Yale and UConn. In a statement, they said they are “determined to create a diverse community, and our admission and financial aid teams have been preparing over the last several months to craft policies that will do that.”

But student groups in the state are pressing institutions to keep doing more beyond statements of support for affirmative action. They are hoping for concrete action in the coming weeks and months as schools navigate a new academic landscape.

“Our stance has been very firm from the beginning … no matter what happens, we will still urge nationally and locally anywhere but specifically toward Yale to continue their support for affirmative action,” said Aly Moosa, a co-moderator of Yale University’s Asian American Students Alliance. “And keeping with the legacy with our groups, we will continue to fight for racial equity.”

The cases

The Supreme Court considered a pair of cases challenging race-conscious admissions practices at Harvard University and the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. The justices considered whether to uphold a 40-year precedent of allowing colleges and universities to take race into account when considering and accepting prospective students.

Students for Fair Admissions represented students in both cases, arguing that Harvard violated the Civil Rights Act when it came to alleged discrimination against Asian American applicants. In the other case, the group accused UNC of breaking the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause, arguing that it mainly looked at race and gave preference to Black, Hispanic and Native American students over white and Asian students.

These colleges said they take race into account as one of a number of factors when reviewing applicants and pushed back against assertions that they broke the law.

The six justices of the Supreme Court’s conservative bloc ruled that Harvard and UNC violated the 14th Amendment, arguing that the universities used race as a consideration in their admissions processes “in a negative manner.” But Chief Justice John Roberts, who penned the majority opinion, said the ruling does not prevent schools from considering a prospective student’s discussion of race and their experiences in application materials.

“Both programs lack sufficiently focused and measurable objectives warranting the use of race, unavoidably employ race in a negative manner, involve racial stereotyping, and lack meaningful end points. We have never permitted admissions programs to work in that way, and we will not do so today,” Roberts wrote.

“Nothing in this opinion should be construed as prohibiting universities from considering an applicant’s discussion of how race affected his or her life, be it through discrimination, inspiration, or otherwise,” he added. “But, despite the dissent’s assertion to the contrary, universities may not simply establish through application essays or other means the regime we hold unlawful today.”

Justice Clarence Thomas wrote a concurring opinion that supports the majority’s ruling. While he acknowledged the gaps that exist for people of color, he argued that the admissions policies of schools like Harvard and UNC “fly in the face of our colorblind Constitution” — a point that the national Republican Party and the Connecticut Republican Party have highlighted in the wake of the opinion.

“While I am painfully aware of the social and economic ravages which have befallen my race and all who suffer discrimination, I hold out enduring hope that this country will live up to its principles so clearly enunciated in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States: that all men are created equal, are equal citizens, and must be treated equally before the law,” wrote Thomas, who is Black.

Justices Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan and Ketanji Brown Jackson dissented in the UNC case, while only Sotomayor and Kagan dissented in the one involving Harvard. Jackson recused herself from the Harvard case because she previously served on the university’s Board of Overseers.

Sotomayor said the court’s majority “cements a superficial rule of colorblindness as a constitutional principle in an endemically segregated society where race has always mattered and continues to matter.”

Jackson also issued her own dissent specifically for the UNC case, noting inequities particularly for Black Americans when it comes to not only education but also gaps within health care and home ownership. Jackson is the most recent justice confirmed to the bench and is the first Black woman to sit on the Supreme Court.

“To demand that colleges ignore race in today’s admissions practices — and thus disregard the fact that racial disparities may have mattered for where some applicants find themselves today — is not only an affront to the dignity of those students for whom race matters,” Jackson wrote. “It also condemns our society to never escape the past that explains how and why race matters to the very concept of who ‘merits’ admission.”


The decision has far-reaching implications across higher education — especially at selective schools and those that are predominantly white — and could significantly reshape how schools recruit and attract a diverse student body. Legal experts have warned that the admittance of Black and Latino students would decrease if affirmative action ended, pointing to the decline after states like California banned the practice.

And some fear ending affirmative action could extend beyond admissions in higher education and possibly affect diversity, equity and inclusion efforts at workplaces.

“Depending on the wording of the discussion, there are ramifications not only on admissions but for financial aid, pre-college programs, impacts on selection process for current students,” Granger. “It could end up having far-reaching impacts on things other than admissions.”

In response to the decision, President Joe Biden said in a Thursday speech from the White House that he wants colleges to take into account students’ financial means, their hometown and high school, and personal experiences regarding discrimination as a way to bolster more diversity.

Some schools in the state do not expect the court’s ruling to have as large of an impact. But Terrence Cheng, chancellor of the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities system, called the decision “alarming” and as a result would like to see for more investments in regional public schools.

“This decision underscores the importance of investing in the CSCU system and other regional public institutions of higher education. We will continue to be the most important drivers of social mobility and workforce development — a responsibility we take with the utmost seriousness,” Cheng said in a statement. “But the removal of our colleague institutions’ most effective tool in undermining a legacy of structural racism is a serious step in the wrong direction and will result in furthering societal inequities.”

Affirmative action has been a hotly debated issue for decades. Supporters say it helps with racial equity and provides opportunities to those in underserved communities, particularly those who are Black, Latino and Native American. Opponents, however, believe it is discriminatory — particularly against white and Asian American students — and that factors like race overshadow merits.

When the high court heard oral arguments on the two cases last fall, various student groups at Yale University and students of color traveled to Washington, D.C. to rally in support of affirmative action. They protested outside of the Supreme Court in October and have sought to provide more education on the issue through a “teach-in” with legal experts.

While he could not be there in person, Moosa described last year’s Supreme Court protest as “emotional” for many in his group. On a personal level, he said it is “disheartening” to see students within the Asian American community split over affirmative action.

Connecticut’s Attorney General William Tong echoed a similar sentiment after the court’s decision. He was among a group of state attorneys general that had filed a brief with the Supreme Court noting their support for affirmative action.

“As a Chinese-American, let me just say that efforts to pit Asian-American students against their classmates and friends are deeply hurtful and unhelpful. To the right-wing extremists using families like mine to advance your own hate-based agenda: you do not speak for me,” Tong said in a statement. “I have benefited throughout my life from programs that recognize the value of diversity. Those opportunities lift us all.”

Other state and federal Democratic officials pushed back against the ruling. Gov. Ned Lamont said the court’s decision “takes our country backward” but noted that Connecticut institutions have been preparing for this day as they look to their next admissions cycle.

In the next few weeks, student groups like Moosa’s are hoping to meet with university leaders at Yale to chart the path forward “to discuss solutions and efforts to support prospective students of color.” Moosa, who is a double major in computer science and ethnicity, race and migration, wants universities like Yale to prioritize the needs of both prospective and current students of color.

Yale is among a number of Connecticut schools that were vocal in their support of affirmative action before the ruling. Many of these schools are still predominantly white institutions but have seen growth among students of color over the past few decades.

Yale was one of 15 higher education institutions to submit a brief last August in support of affirmative action policies and universities’ independent academic judgment.

“A decision by this Court forbidding all consideration of race in the admissions process would undercut [universities’] vital efforts to attain diverse student bodies,” the brief states.

“Diversity fosters a more robust spirit of free inquiry and encourages dialogue that sparks new insights,” it states. “Diversity encourages students to question their own assumptions, to test received truths, and to appreciate the complexity of the modern world.”

Yale has faced its own lawsuits when it comes to challenges against its use of affirmative action. The Department of Justice under the Trump administration sued the school for such practices but dropped that lawsuit in 2021. And Students for Fair Admissions had filed a similar lawsuit against the New Haven university. 

A few liberal arts colleges in Connecticut — Wesleyan, Connecticut College and Trinity College — also submitted a brief to the Supreme Court supporting affirmative action.

Student advocates like Moosa argue there are misconceptions about affirmative action and say it is part of a larger fight toward achieving racial equity.

“Affirmative action isn’t just a quota or diversity and ensuring there are enough X number of students of color,” Moosa said. “It’s about this understanding to make sure that people and specifically students of color, specifically Black and brown students of color, are able to have opportunities that are inaccessible otherwise.”

Lisa Hagen is CT Mirror and CT Public's shared Federal Policy Reporter. Based in Washington, D.C., she focuses on the impact of federal policy in Connecticut and covers the state’s congressional delegation. Lisa previously covered national politics and campaigns for U.S. News & World Report, The Hill and National Journal’s Hotline. She is a New Jersey native and graduate of Boston University.