So Much Work To Do

Perception Institute’s statement on the Supreme Court’s Affirmative Action cases:

The neurobiologists, the environmental engineers, the welders, the poets, the food justice organizers, the pediatricians, the patent attorneys, the 2nd grade teachers, the art history professors … the list of possible professions our current high school students may inhabit is vast and ever changing. The benefit to our country, our communities, and actually, the globe in having those roles filled by students of every race, ethnicity, and class background is crystal clear. With all of the challenges we are facing, we need every ounce of talent, innovation, energy, and ability to collaborate that our students possess. 

Yet lived experience and decades of research show that despite varying efforts, our k-12 schools have not reached a stage where the race and ethnicity of students doesn’t affect their experience in the classroom (along with so many other facets of life). Powerful data show that implicit biases and identity anxieties are obstacles that students of color have to navigate along with the rigors of calculus and AP history.   

We have spent more than a decade immersed in this research and were part of the team representing behavioral psychologists as amici in the last Supreme Court case to consider affirmative action. The research on the continued effect of racial biases in our schools is overwhelming. The Equal Protection Clause was enacted following the Civil War with the goal of equal citizenship and racial equality. We are not there yet. Today’s Supreme Court decision invalidating Harvard and the University of North Carolina’s use of race as a factor in admissions ignores both the genesis of the Equal Protection Clause and what is known about the human brain.  

It is a hard day.

We join, however, the many who are saying that it is time to double down, to do more, to make sure that doors of opportunity are opened wider for every student to realize their potential. So much work to do with our k-12 schools to align their goals of creating classrooms where all students can do their best work because they feel seen and valued by their teachers. So much work to create summer programs with enough spots for every student who wants to learn about computer coding, film-making, essay writing. So much work to ensure that guidance counselors are both available to students because schools have enough of them and also that they see the talents and possibilities in every student they work with – and not just the students who remind them of their younger selves. So much work to ensure that the gains made in Black and Brown communities are not lost. Gains like the 67% increase in the number of Black workers with a bachelor’s degree or higher working in the STEM field, and the 99% increase for Hispanic or Latino STEM workers. We need to see more, not less of this momentum. 

The Supreme Court may pronounce that universities can’t take account of a student’s race in admissions decisions – but that doesn’t erase the significance of race in students’ lives. Our promise to young people is that we will do everything in our power for students to be celebrated in all of their identities rather than having to work so much harder. So much to make sure that our students – our communities, our country, our world – aren’t suffering because of what the majority of the Supreme Court ignores. And it is work that we will do together. We owe each other a world where our race truly does not limit our pursuit of happiness, let’s stay focused until that is true. 

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