PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — Brown University and 15 other colleges and universities jointly urged a U.S. District Court on Monday, July 30, to affirm the ability for higher education institutions to consider race as one factor in their admissions processes.
The brief was filed in support of Harvard University, whose admissions practices are the subject of a 2014 lawsuit filed by Students for Fair Admissions. The suit challenges Harvard’s approach to admitting undergraduate students and alleges that the university holds prospective students who are Asian American to a higher standard than other applicants.
In this week’s amicus brief, the universities emphasized the profound importance of a diverse student body to their educational missions.
"We at Brown will do everything in our power to advocate against changes to laws or policies that would undermine our ability to build a diverse community of outstanding students," said Brown University President Christina Paxson. "Through our race-conscious admission practices, Brown assembles the diverse range of perspectives and experiences essential for a learning and research community that prepares students to thrive in a complex and changing world."
The brief argued that individualized, holistic review of applications — with race and ethnicity considered as one factor among many — is the best means that universities can employ in pursuit of meaningful diversity.
“The diversity that Amici seek in their admissions policies in nuanced and multifaceted, and it encompasses a diversity of perspectives, experiences, goals, backgrounds, races, ethnicities and interests...” the brief stated.
“The plaintiffs here suggest that holistic review should be conducted without regard to race, but it is artificial to consider an applicant’s experiences and perspectives while turning a blind eye to race. For many applicants, their race has influenced, and will continue to influence, their experiences and perspectives.”
Eliminating consideration of race, the brief argued, would compromise the ability to attain diverse student bodies, a critical factor in the universities’ missions to “develop active and engaged citizens equipped to address the problems of a rapidly evolving world — training future city, state, national and international leaders in every field of endeavor, including the arts, humanities, government, science and business.”
Enrolling a diverse student body, the brief stated, exposes students to different perspectives, encourages them to question their own assumptions and helps them appreciate the world’s complexity.
“This larger understanding prepares graduates to pursue innovation in every field of discovery, to be active and engaged citizens equipped to wrestle with the great questions of the day, and to expand humanity’s learning and accomplishment.”
The universities also made clear that their position is consistent with previous U.S. Supreme Court decisions — most recently a 2016 ruling in Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin that an applicant’s race could be considered as part of a holistic review.
The brief’s signatories include Brown, Case Western Reserve University, Columbia University, Cornell University, Dartmouth College, Duke University, Emory University, George Washington University, Johns Hopkins University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Princeton University, Stanford University, University of Pennsylvania, Vanderbilt University, Washington University in St. Louis and Yale University.