Colleges Will Be Able to Block Out a Student’s Race on Admissions Applications

Each year, the million or more students applying to college through the Common App are given the option to check a box indicating whether they are Hispanic, Asian, black or white, among other choices. identify as

Now, with the U.S. Supreme Court expected to soon rule against race-conscious admissions — and with colleges eager to follow the law — the Common App has put an end to what’s known as the “race box.” What is the advance measure?

Starting August 1, colleges will be able to withhold information. CommonApp’s chief executive Jenny Rickard said in an interview that in the boxes of their own admissions teams.

CommonApp said in a statement that the new option will help colleges “comply with whatever legal standards the Supreme Court sets regarding the race for admissions.” A nonprofit, Common App administers a universal application used by more than 1,000 colleges and universities.

The decision, which appears to be aimed at protecting colleges from lawsuits, is one of the first concrete examples of how college admissions could change if the Supreme Court limits or restricts admissions based on race. Dropping out of college can put more pressure on applicants to disclose their racial and ethnic background through other means, primarily in essays or teacher recommendations.

The scope of the court’s decision, expected in late June, is unknown. But judges showed keen interest in using racebooks during oral arguments last fall.

Colleges have said they will follow the law, but are wary of future litigation. Groups opposed to affirmative action have said they may file lawsuits that could test the limits of the Supreme Court’s decision.

The potential case against the racebooks is clear, according to Edward Blum, founder of Students for Fair Admissions, a plaintiff in the current lawsuits against Harvard and the University of North Carolina.

“If racial preferences are outlawed, it should follow that racial classification boxes should not be allowed on college application forms,” ​​he said.

Legal experts say that masking the race boxes on the Common App could give universities a sense of potential rebuttals, and perhaps even provide some protection from lawsuits.

Papers are a less likely target for lawsuits. As a practical matter, with more than 50,000 applicants to Harvard alone, it would be difficult to reproduce mentions of race among the thousands of application essays colleges receive each year.

But more litigation is likely about broader diversity issues, such as scholarships for black students. “There is a strong, organized, well-funded attack agenda,” said Art Coleman, managing partner of the Education Council, a consulting firm that has worked with universities on Supreme Court cases.

During the oral arguments, the Supreme Court justices spent a lot of time discussing the race box and the subject of the petition. Some form of the phrase “checking the box” was used more than 30 times during a five-hour argument before the judges last October.

Patrick Strawbridge, an attorney with Students for Fair Admissions, debated with the judges when it would be appropriate for admissions officers to find out an applicant’s race. He suggested that much would depend on the context of the revelation.

“What we object to is the consideration of race and ethnicity itself,” Mr Strawbridge told the judges.

“Race in a box-checking manner, as opposed to race in an empirical statement?” Justice Amy Coney Barrett, one of the conservative majority expected to sympathize with the plaintiffs, explained.

Mr. Strawbridge said it would be hard to object to a thoughtful article that invoked a student’s race in the context of a deeply personal story.

An essay about overcoming racial discrimination could be allowed, because it is “obviously the applicant’s motivation, that the applicant has overcome some difficulties,” Mr Strawbridge told the judges. “It tells you something about the applicant’s character and experience in addition to the color of his skin.”

Isaiah Crawford, president of the University of Puget Sound, said he hoped the court would agree with Mr. Strawbridge on that point.

“We certainly believe that student applicants should have a First Amendment right to speak about their background if they choose to do so,” said Dr. Crawford.

If the discussion of a student’s race is completely blocked, he said, a white applicant to an Ivy League school might write about being the child of a former student, while a black student “Can’t be able to talk about his own. Background, whose grandparents weren’t allowed into schools like the Ivy League, and how that has influenced his choices.”

Ms. Rickard said the Common App will continue to collect racial information for its own purposes, such as looking at application trends among different groups, regardless of how the Supreme Court decides. Because the nonprofit does not enroll students, it is unlikely to be subject to litigation.

Colleges will be able to suppress racial information from both the printable and digital forms of applications. The Common App already allows colleges to hide information about test scores if they don’t consider test scores in admissions. Colleges have also been successful in concealing students’ Social Security numbers, dates of birth, gender and criminal history.

Mr Coleman said he hoped the court’s focus during oral arguments on checking the box meant it would rule against only the most simplistic and stereotypical use of race in admissions.

Otherwise, he said, trying to hide an applicant’s race can become an exercise in absurdity. For example, during an applicant interview, “Do you want to go behind the scenes?”

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