By Arlenis Marmolejos
The Purchase Clock Tower in front of the Student Services Building. (Photo by Arlenis Marmolejos)
Affirmative action has diversified college campuses nationwide. However, as the legality of race-conscious admissions is put into question, Purchase weighs in on its policies.
Last October, the U.S. Supreme Court debated whether Harvard University and the University of North Carolina’s cases aiming to outlaw race-conscious admission programs are lawful or not. While the higher court reaffirmed the holding for lawful consideration of an applicant’s race without violating Title VI in 2003 in Grutter v. Bollinger, and again in 2016 in Fisher v. University of Texas, the decisions in these two cases could lead to extensive consequences.
Purchase's new Affirmative Action and Chief Diversity Officer, Lisa Miles-Boyce, believes affirmative action is a plan of equity and inclusivity that levels a playing field of opportunity for all people.
“To think that we’re at a point in our culture and community where we don't have to be intentional about understanding the importance of considering race in the application process is absurd,” Miles-Boyce said. “Certain elite academic institutions allow for legacies, athletes, and children of wealthy donors to be given a higher priority. Meanwhile, there is a strong resistance to the consideration of race.”
Over the past four decades, affirmative action has been vastly questioned about its success in supporting diversity in the admissions policy. “We’re premature in discussing race neutrality in this country. It is not surprising that we’re discussing affirmative action once again and not valuing how imperative and beneficial it is to become educated in an environment of multiculturalism among higher education,” said Miles-Boyce.
The Purchase College President, Dr. Milagros Peña, explained the benefits of diversity she hopes to further obtain in her institution. “Creating and fostering a diverse educational community is paramount to our mission, vision, and values at Purchase," she said. "Equally important are the opportunities we provide to society when everyone has an opportunity to be invited to be at the table of education and what it does for transforming lives, providing for equity, and giving diverse communities opportunities to access it.”
“Affirmative action allows for institutions to reassess their frameworks and ideologies in preventing the economic reproduction of capitalism and white supremacists, and instead help diversify and maximize the production of knowledge from different types of people including race, sexuality, and beliefs,” said Tristen Tomlin, a senior political science major and president of the political science club. Tristen Tomlin (left) and Sophia Dimopoulos (right) in front of the Purchase College Library. (Photo by Arlenis Marmolejos)
Tomlin approves of affirmative action policies but stated, “It would be nice to view people as they are rather than what their racial makeup is. However, knowing that elite institutions reinforce race in other ways like judging ethnic names, zip codes, and more makes me feel that race should be considered within admissions.”
Sophia Dimopoulos, a senior majoring in political science, explained that the nation will be waiting for the decision until, most likely, June 2023. “Unfortunately, it’s very clear that the direction the Supreme Court justices are heading in is a more conservative viewpoint on the law,” Dimopoulos stated.
Following the conservative majority overturning of the landmark Roe v. Wade decision last June, along with abortion rights, educational equity is at stake.
Dennis Craig, the vice president of student affairs and enrollment management, has worked at Purchase for 17 years providing oversight in admissions and is in favor of affirmative action. “Purchases College embraces affirmative action,” he said.
Craig explained how the Career Development Center offers an online job and internship search system that establishes fair access to employment opportunities, and further “creates a diverse applicant pool in support of affirmative action.”
Peña continues to progress in higher education by prioritizing representation and having her students focus on “creating meaningful connections” while learning how to be “contributing members of our inclusive society both in and outside the classroom.”
In 2017, Craig helped pilot an admissions policy to launch Purchase as a test-optional institution; it became a front-runner as the second SUNY campus to successfully become test-optional before the pandemic. “We felt strongly that standardized tests provide a disadvantage to many different populations as it often proved to be a better indicator of economic and personal wealth which people of color couldn’t often afford," Craig stated.
The Wall Street Journal analyzed a study in 2019, where data from 9,000 public schools found that students from high-income areas “where no more than 10 percent of students are eligible for free or reduced-cost school lunches, an average of 4.2 percent of students have 504 designations giving them special test-taking allowances such as extra time.” On the other hand, “75 percent or more of students are eligible for free and reduced-cost lunches” in lower-income areas yet, are least likely to get additional time during standardized tests with only an estimated 1.6 percent having 504 plans.
According to a Pew Research study in April 2022, fewer American adults now see test scores as major factors that should be considered in college admissions decisions compared to statistics from 2019. Around 39 percent of U.S. adults currently say standardized test scores should be a major factor, down from 47 percent three years ago.
Highly renowned meritocracies such as Harvard and other Ivy League institutions, “perceive SAT scores as the gold standard in terms of a meritocracy analysis, long after we knew that an SAT is not an indicator of the success one has in college,” Miles-Boyce said. “For people of color tests scores were historically lower – not as a sign of a lack of intelligence but, a sign of a lack of resources.”
“Affirmative action is much broader than society, we're strengthening our American democracy by ensuring that all our citizens regardless of race or economic background are given a level of help to remediate many of the inequities that exist in this nation,” Craig said.