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Students and officials react to UNC-Chapel Hill's Supreme Court hearing

 The Old Well at UNC-Chapel Hill.
Liz Schlemmer
The Old Well at UNC-Chapel Hill.

Christina Huang, a student, spent her Monday among others from UNC-Chapel Hill and Harvard on the steps of the Supreme Court to rally in support of affirmative action Monday.

Oral arguments were heard today in a case challenging the use of race in college admissions at UNC Chapel Hill.

UNC-Chapel Hill students Christina Huang and Joy Jiang rallied outside the Supreme Court Monday. They are co-founders of the student group UNC For Affirmative Action.
Courtesy of Christina Huang
UNC-Chapel Hill students Christina Huang and Joy Jiang rallied outside the Supreme Court Monday. They are co-founders of the student group UNC For Affirmative Action.

“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime moment to be part of, because this Supreme Court case is going to impact students throughout the country,” Huang said. “It’s going to impact who our next leaders are going to be, what students are getting into colleges.”

The court’s decision could affect admissions practices at public universities nationwide. UNC-Chapel Hill and Harvard were at the center of the hearings Monday, as the two universities sued by advocacy group Students For Fair Admissions.

The universities argue that their use of race as one factor in a holistic admissions process meets the standard set in prior Supreme Court decisions, but the plaintiff Students For Fair Admissions argues that precedent should be overturned to fully eliminate the use of race in college admissions.

At a following press conference, UNC-Chapel Hill's Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz defended the university's race conscious policy.

“We want to, again, do everything to try to protect the opportunity for the holistic admissions process that has worked not only in Carolina for decades, but for thousands of other universities and colleges around the country for decades,” Guskiewicz said.

The makeup of the Supreme Court has changed – swinging farther to the right – since the last time it heard a similar case against the University of Texas at Austin in 2016 and upheld affirmative action in a 4-to-3 decision. The composition of the court has led some to speculate that justices may overturn precedent.

“If race-based admissions is deemed unconstitutional, I fear that we'll see a huge decline in diversity amongst all universities across the country,” said Jorren Biggs, a student at UNC-Chapel Hill and vice president of the university’s Black Student Movement.

Opponents of race-based admissions policies say any consideration of race in decisions about who is accepted into colleges violates the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution.

“I think anytime you invite race into the equation about who you are admitting and who you are not and where they show up on your list, that is discriminating on the basis of race,” said Jenna Robinson, president of the James G. Martin Center, a conservative-leaning public policy organization in North Carolina focused on higher education.

When asked how the university might respond if the Court overturns precedent that allows race to be a factor in admissions decisions, Guskiewicz said he did not want to speculate on the outcome of the case, but that the university will "do everything possible to try to continue to have a diverse student body at Carolina.”

The Court is expected to release a decision in six to eight months.

Copyright 2022 North Carolina Public Radio. To see more, visit North Carolina Public Radio.

Liz Schlemmer is WUNC's Education Policy Reporter, a fellowship position supported by the A.J. Fletcher Foundation. She has an M.A. from the UNC Chapel Hill School of Media & Journalism and a B.A. in history and anthropology from Indiana University.