Monday’s webinar, “In the Face of Resistance: Advancing Equity in Higher Education” opened with an Introduction from Paulette Granberry Russell, president of the National Association of Diversity Officers in Higher Education. President Granberry Russell framed the importance of this webinar in the context of broader discussion about the role of equity in higher education:“Ongoing concerns related to the need for more equitable and inclusive colleges, and universities require intentional effort if we are going to continue our work to create what we value and expect in higher education: increased diversity, more equitable and inclusive campus communities. But we need to develop strategies to continue the work we are doing, which is why this event is so important.”

Opening remarks from Rutgers University Chancellor Nancy Cantor offer a historical framing of affirmative action through two themes: “equity as reparative justice on one hand, and diversity as beneficial for all on the other hand.” Cantor emphasizes that, “no matter what the court decides, we have a public responsibility to make [diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives] move forward.”

Next, a panel led by CSS director Earl Lewis discussed “the implications of a negative decision, either full or partial,” and the establishment of “parameters for a lawful response…refusing to signal full retreat from the core mission of providing opportunities for all in a society that is not, and has never been, colorblind.” The panel featured commentary from Tabbye Chavous, Vice Provost for Equity and Inclusion, Chief Diversity Officer, and professor of education and psychology at the University of Michigan; Wade Henderson, principal of Wade J. Henderson, LLC and senior advisor for The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and The Leadership Conference Education Fund; and Sylvia Hurtado, professor of education and former director of the Higher Education Research Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles.

The panel discussion examined an array of topics, with commentary from all three panelists providing insight into the potential futures that await higher education in the wake of the Supreme Court’s impending decision on affirmative action, expected this summer. Wade Henderson provided a summary of the three potential directions of the Supreme Court decision: maintaining the status quo and reaffirming affirmative action’s importance to the college admissions process (which Henderson posits is unlikely); making the role of race in admissions more restrictive, ensuring universities have exhausted all race-neutral options to increase diversity before considering race; or, removing race entirely and banning it from consideration in admission decisions. Henderson notes that “universities should be planning in anticipation that the worst-case scenario will occur,” and should develop strategies to continue promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion on campus without affirmative action policies in place.

Sylvia Hurtado offered the University of California system as an example of what may happen to the admissions process if affirmative action principles are banned from use. When these measures were banned in California, numbers of Black, Latinx, and Native American students at UC’s most selective campuses, Berkeley and Los Angeles, “saw percentage cuts by half.” How to address this issue when race (and, in the case of California, gender too) is banned from consideration in admissions? Hurtado says it is difficult, but that institutions must “broaden [their] conception of talent” and “think about areas of economic mobility that we want to focus on for development, and change the racial conversation to that.”

Beyond this single Supreme Court decision, Tabbye Chavous encourages us to conceive the implications of banning affirmative action on “our educational system more broadly,” and to think of it in tandem with state-level efforts to “erase race from a curricular perspective.” These efforts, from state legislatures up to the Supreme Court, will impact K-12 students in addition to those entering higher education. Attacks on the role of race in curricula, admissions, etc. are “systematic and planful,” Chavous says, in their execution.

Following the panel discussion, a Q&A with audience members included further consideration of how the Supreme Court’s looming decision may affect a range of stakeholders, from leaders at universities to the students that must contend with a new admissions standard.

Closing remarks were offered by Elizabeth Cole, director of the National Center for Institutional Diversity (NCID) and professor of psychology, women’s and gender studies, and Afroamerican & African studies at the University of Michigan. Cole’s takeaways impel us to “counter misinformation,” “continue to push for access to and for equitable experiences within higher education,” “offer support, space, and refuge for those who are directly affected as a result of changing policies,” and finally, “advocate, lobby, and organize to counteract these active efforts to undo progress.”

A recording of this event will be made available in the coming weeks. Find more information on NCID’s website and Twitter.