It’s been a long time coming, but the Supreme Court has awarded affirmative action a big victory. In late June, the court weighed in on Abigail Fisher’s lawsuit against the University of Texas, and its ruling allows college officials to continue considering race as a factor in admissions.
But what does that really mean? There’s a lot of celebration, to be sure, but a lot of hand-wringing as well, and the court’s decision is unlikely to appease Americans who question affirmative action’s role.
As dean of engineering at Georgia Tech, I don’t play a role in admissions, and my university does not consider race when admitting new students. But I know firsthand the benefits of working and learning in a diverse setting. Georgia Tech’s engineering college is one of the most diverse in the country, and we graduate more women and minority engineers than anywhere else.
That means I’ve known plenty of students from underrepresented minorities, who amaze me with their talents and interests. Even students who may be the first members of their families to go to college, or students who were told when they were younger that they somehow weren’t good enough, can and do thrive here.
I’m reminded of a former student of mine, Cleon Davis, who as a child was placed in a class for students with learning disabilities. The truth was, his teachers didn’t want to deal with an active black child, so his mother worked hard to have him placed in regular classes. Eventually, Cleon found his way to Georgia Tech, where I was his thesis advisor as he earned his Ph.D.
Students of color aren’t the only ones who benefit from diversity here. Learning alongside peers from different backgrounds can offer new perspectives to students who may not have had much exposure to different viewpoints growing up.
The Supreme Court’s ruling in the Fisher case doesn’t close the door on future challenges to affirmative action. But for the time being, it allows the policy to stand, and it invites us to consider the value of diversity in our daily lives.
It makes my university a better place, and I’m grateful to have known so many students who felt the same.