Rachel Shin, Contributing Photographer
Over 40 Yale students joined an intercollegiate delegation on the steps of the nation’s highest court on Monday as justices heard arguments for two cases that could eradicate race-conscious admissions.
Students for Fair Admissions brought two lawsuits to the Supreme Court, separately alleging that the race-conscious admissions policies practiced by Harvard University and the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill are discriminatory. Legal scholars predicted after the hearings that the court’s conservative majority will rule against affirmative action in both decisions this spring.
The Yale delegation — which included 41 students drawn from across the University’s four primary cultural activist groups — joined students from at least four other universities to express their support of the practice. Other Yalies, who remained in New Haven, organized on-campus efforts to promote awareness of the hearings.
“Following the oral arguments, it seems all but decided that affirmative action will fall next year,” wrote Tony Ruan ’25, the co-political chair of Yale’s Asian American Students Alliance. “While obviously frustrated, and a little hoarse from a bit of vocal strain, I also feel a profound sense of pride and gratitude for our community.”
In the lawsuit against UNC-Chapel Hill, SFFA claims that the consideration of race in college admissions processes violates the Fourteenth Amendment rights of white and Asian American students. In the Harvard case, the group argues that Asian Americans’ equal protection rights are infringed upon.
Though the Yale Office of Undergraduate Admissions is not making any assumptions about the future of affirmative action, admissions staff are taking steps to continue promoting diversity, even in a post-affirmative action world.
“Earlier this year, the Admissions Office completed a review of the race-neutral initiatives we currently use to build a diverse student body,” Dean of Undergraduate Admissions and Financial Aid Jeremiah Quinlan wrote in an email to the News. “We will expand those initiatives, and we are working closely with the partners across campus to identify ways to obtain the benefits of diversity, even in a changed legal environment.”
SFFA also sued Yale in 2021, alleging similar discrimination in its admissions practices. The lawsuit is currently on hold, pending the resolution of the ongoing Supreme Court litigation.
University Interim Vice President for Communications Karen Peart also emphasized Yale’s support for affirmative action in an email to the News.
Peart referenced an amicus brief that Yale filed alongside 14 peer institutions earlier this year. She noted that both a federal trial court and appellate court have already ruled Harvard’s consideration of race and ethnicity to be legal.
“Today, the Supreme Court is being asked to uphold 40 years of its own precedent affirming the importance of diversity in higher education,” Peart wrote. “Yale is firmly committed to complying with all legal requirements for admissions and is confident that a diverse student body will remain a central feature of a Yale education.”
Student delegations take on D.C.
Forty-one Yale students — 18 students from the Asian American Students Alliance and 23 from across the Native and Indigenous Association at Yale, Black Students at Yale and Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlán — gathered at the Supreme Court to protest in defense of race-conscious admissions.
They joined over 100 Harvard students as well as delegations from other schools, such as UNC and Morgan State, among others. The New York Times reported that a line of individuals hoping to watch the Court stretched at least two blocks away.
The students woke up at 7 a.m. and marched together to the Supreme Court Building, where student activists, nonprofit leaders and elders spoke about the benefits of affirmative action, according to Quinn Luong ’26.
Ruan emphasized the importance of building community across ethnic groups.
The four cultural advocacy groups — AASA, NISAY, BSAY and MEChA — expressed their excitement about the collaborative efforts leading up to these demonstrations. The trip represents the biggest cross-cultural undertaking since the 2019 protests to bolster the Ethnicity, Race & Migration program.
In an Oct. 30 letter to the editor, AASA members reflected on the value of the current endeavor, expressing their pride to continue a history of “radical student activism,” Ruan wrote, a sentiment other protesting student groups agreed with.
“We were inspired by the history of intercultural advocacy and solidarity between BSAY, NISAY, MEChA, and AASA and we were honored to continue in the footsteps of previous student leaders,” BSAY’s Social Justice co-chairs, Momona Hadish ’25 and Anna Elesinmogun ’25 wrote in a joint statement to the News. “We hope that our organizing this week builds community that will last beyond this action — that it continues to set a precedent of dialogue, activism, and collaboration between cultural organizations on campus.”
Some individuals and groups — like the center-right think tank American Enterprise Institute — have levied critiques of pro-affirmative action advocates, calling them “obsessed with race.”
But for Ruan, racial analysis is a critical part of progress toward racial justice.
“What these critics fail to see is a broader critique of not just racism, but power,” Ruan wrote. “If being ‘obsessed with race’ means building solidarity across racial groups to critically reflect on the circumstances in which Asian Americans can be used as a political pawn to roll back affirmative action policies proven to advance economic and educational justice for racial minorities—including Asian Americans themselves—then perhaps we are obsessed with race.”
On Oct. 30, the day before oral arguments began, Yalies attended a celebration of diversity organized by non-profit legal organizations, including the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. Civil rights leaders and student speakers — including AASA co-moderator Resty Fufunan ’24 — discussed the value of diversity in education and the need to preserve affirmative action.
Among the students in D.C. was Anh Nguyen ’26, who said affirmative action goes beyond “checking a box.”
“It’s the ability to authentically express yourself,” Nguyen told the News.
Efforts on campus
AASA organizers are also working to actively promote on-campus awareness of affirmative action.
On Oct. 31, the same day oral arguments began in D.C., Yalies hosted an affirmative action teach-in at the Asian American Cultural Center. The event included representatives from the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, Lawyer’s Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and Asian Americans Advancing Justice to discuss the significance of race-conscious admissions and what ongoing litigation means for its future.
Last week organizers from AASA created and posted a fact sheet, with the objective of spreading information about race-conscious admissions policies and their current precarious legal standing. Members also set up an informational session on Cross Campus on Sunday, Oct. 30, to disseminate information to the general Yale community.
AASA members also worked with Yale Splash, an student-run program in which Yale students teach classes to students in grades 7-12, to offer an informational session on affirmative action this past Saturday, Oct. 29.
Per AASA cultural chair Aly Moosa ’25, the class taught with Splash included a research-based educational overview of affirmative action as well as a summary of the legal contexts of both SFFA cases.
“We aimed to introduce a conversation to high schoolers, igniting 1.) a critical approach to thinking about college admissions and the future of admissions and 2.) an understanding of the tension within the Asian American community,” Moosa wrote in an email to the News. “We hope that more students (both in college and high school) can continue to work and talk about Affirmative Action. The fight isn’t over—it has just begun.”
The oral arguments
The proceedings opened at 10 a.m., when the Supreme Court heard arguments for the UNC case. Harvard lawyers began their presentation around 1:00 p.m., and the sessions concluded around 3:00 p.m.
A core component of the SFFA argument is that the Supreme Court previously prohibited the use of racial classifications to increase diversity in K-12 school assignments. The Court has also forbid colleges from using race to hire more diverse faculty. As such, SFFA holds that it does not follow for racial classification to be used in college admissions.
Harvard lawyers contended that the Constitution and its amendments are not inherently race-neutral, as the plaintiffs purport. Specifically, they noted that the 14th Amendment — which contains the equal protection clause — was passed with race in mind.
The equal protection clause holds that American constitutional rights extend to all citizens. It was initially implemented in 1868 to grant equal rights to newly-freed slaves.
In an SFFA press release that its founder Edward Blum sent to the News, Blum criticized prestigious schools, asserting his belief that they harm national values.
“Elite universities like Harvard and UNC are diminishing, rather than growing, the power and profundity of American individualism,” Blum wrote in the press release. “As individual Americans, we are all minorities.”
Blum added that a “significant majority of Americans of all races” oppose race-conscious college admissions policies and consider an affirmative action repeal to be a step toward the nation’s original civil rights principles.
In fact, public opinion around affirmative action is murky. Survey data suggests that reported support or opposition varies based on question phrasing and the racial identity of the surveyed person.
Of more than 10,000 adults surveyed in March by the Pew Research Center, 74 percent said that race or ethnicity should not be considered by colleges when they decide which students to admit. In this poll, 79 percent of white respondents said that race and ethnicity should not be a factor, but only 59 percent of Black people responded that way.
Another survey, conducted this month by The Washington Post and George Mason University, found that 63 percent of more than 1,200 adults would support the Supreme Court in banning the consideration of race in college admissions. The same poll, however, also found that 64 percent of respondents supported programs designed to increase racial diversity among college students.
A New York Times and Siena College poll of registered voters in September asked participants specifically about “affirmative action.” Of the 1,400 adults contacted, 40 percent said they either strongly or somewhat favored the use of affirmative action in college admissions. Twenty-eight percent said they strongly or somewhat opposed the idea, while 24 percent said they had never heard of affirmative action.
During the hearing, SFFA was represented by Consovoy McCarthy, an Arlington, Virginia-based law firm. Patrick Strawbridge, one of the partners representing SFFA, previously represented former president Donald Trump’s 2020 campaign in a case that sought to block the counting of Pennsylvania mail-in ballots.
Strawbridge also formerly clerked for Clarence Thomas, a current justice seated on the Supreme Court. Ginni Thomas, the justice’s wife, sits on the advisory board of the National Association of Scholars — a conservative organization that filed an amicus brief in support of SFFA’s suit. Ginni Thomas’s board role has raised questions about the justice’s impartiality toward the two affirmative action cases presently before the Court.
What if it falls?
Nine states have already banned race-based affirmative action: California in 1996, Washington in 1998, Florida in 1999, Michigan in 2006, Nebraska in 2008, Arizona in 2010, New Hampshire in 2012, Oklahoma in 2012 and Idaho in 2020.
Over the 26 years since Californians voted to abolish affirmative action in their state university system, demographics reports show that Black, Latinx and Indigenous student populations have declined. Similar trends are echoed in Michigan, where Black student enrollment dropped to 4 percent on the University of Michigan’s Ann Arbor campus.
The effects on Black students and other marginalized groups were core motivators for BSAY’s participation in the demonstrations, Hadish and Elesinmogun told the News.
“At its roots, BSAY is about creating a safe and welcoming space for Black students on and off campus,” Hadish and Elesinmogun wrote to the News, “advocating for Black people and other marginalized groups is central to our mission, thus it was imperative, for us, that we be involved in the organizing.”
In their editorial, AASA members argued that so-called “race-neutral” application processes, like those in California and Michigan, are not neutral. They cited standardized tests, internships, research positions, extracurriculars and other activities of inherently showing preference to white students by “exploiting the racial wealth gap and failing to account for cultural differences.”
In the lawsuits, SFFA argues that race-based admissions policies harm Asian Americans and lower their chances of gaining admission to highly-selective universities.
For many of the AASA students present, it was important to challenge the SFFA narrative that Asian Americans are hurt by and thus opposed to affirmative action.
“AASA standing together in solidarity and supporting affirmative action helps shift the narrative that ‘Asians don’t like affirmative action,’” Luong wrote to the News. “As Asian-Americans, we refuse to be used as a divisive wedge against other minorities. We want to emphasize that affirmative action policies truly benefit everyone, including Asians.”
During the hearing, Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Ketanji Brown Jackson challenged the SFFA argument that racial identity on its own guarantees admission. They cited a lack of proof that merely checking a racial identity box granted a student admission into UNC.
“You haven’t demonstrated or shown one situation in which all they looked at was race,” Jackson said to Strawbridge during the UNC hearing.
These critiques are not new. Eight years ago, when the lawsuits were first filed, SFFA was criticized for lacking examples of actual students who had been turned down by the universities. A Washington Post article from Oct. 9 notes that Blum recently was unable to connect the news outlet with any students who were turned down by UNC.
Harvard, Princeton and Yale affiliates signed an intercollegiate statement in favor of affirmative action in advance of the hearings. In the statement, the students reference three amicus briefs submitted to the Court in defense of affirmative action. A total of 82 corporations and business groups signed onto these documents, including 25 Harvard student and alumni organizations.
Four of the nine justices currently sitting on the Supreme Court are alumni of Yale Law School.