Bates, Bowdoin and Colby colleges join effort to uphold affirmative action

·3 min read

Aug. 5—Three Maine colleges have joined a brief filed with the U.S. Supreme Court in support of affirmative action in college admissions.

Students for Fair Admissions, a nonprofit organization representing 20,000 primarily Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, is suing Harvard University and the University of North Carolina alleging discrimination in college admissions based on race.

Bates, Bowdoin and Colby colleges are among 33 private liberal arts colleges and universities which have signed a brief urging the court to uphold previous rulings which allow admission officers to consider race as a factor for admission.

"Studies consistently show that diversity — including racial diversity — meaningfully improves learning experiences, complex thinking, and noncognitive abilities," the schools argue in the brief. "Diversity also generates pedagogical innovations and decreases prejudice. These benefits are especially pronounced at liberal arts colleges and small universities, where smaller class sizes lead to greater engagement among diverse students."

The brief argues that the precedent set by the 2003 Supreme Court case which allowed a narrow use of race in admission policies by a 5-4 decision, should be upheld. The Supreme Court most recently supported race as a factor in college admissions in 2016.

However, the makeup of the Supreme Court has changed since then. With three new justices appointed by former President Donald Trump, the conservative-leaning court may instead side with Students for Fair Admissions, prohibiting an admissions practice used for more than 40 years.

The admissions processes for private liberal arts colleges "focus on the individual applicant and employ race only as part of a holistic consideration," according to the brief. "(The signees) have revisited their programs to determine whether workable race-neutral alternatives exist that would produce the educational benefits of diversity. But (the colleges and universities) have repeatedly concluded that race cannot be excluded entirely from admissions considerations if they are to enroll the diverse classes critical to their educational mission."

All three colleges — Bates in Lewiston, Bowdoin in Brunswick and Colby in Waterville — actively seek students with diverse racial, ethnic, economic, geographic and academic backgrounds.

Forty-two percent of Bowdoin's incoming first-year class self-identify as U.S. students of color, according to the college. At Bates, 27% of the full rising sophomore class identify as U.S. students of color, as well as 35% of U.S. students in Colby's rising sophomore class.

"When the admission committee reviews applications, we recognize that each student's environment and upbringing have shaped the opportunities available to them and their experiences," said Claudia Marroquin, dean of admission and student aid at Bowdoin College, in a story published by the Bowdoin News. "This allows us to build a learning and living community that enhances the educational experience for everyone at Bowdoin. We cannot ignore that race continues to play a major role in our society."

An amicus curiae brief is a letter from a party who is not directly involved with a Supreme Court case, but has a vested interest in the outcome. The brief provides information and insight which judges may use to help inform their decision.

Other signees to the brief include Amherst, Hampshire, Middlebury, and Williams colleges.

The Supreme Court will likely hear arguments for the case during its next term beginning in October, with a decision expected no earlier than the spring of 2023.