Rajsi Rana ’26
On June 29, 2023, Trinity College President Joanne Berger-Sweeney sent out an email alerting the student body and staff of the U.S. Supreme Court decision to ban affirmative action in college admissions. “This is a disappointing decision for all who deeply believe that a diverse student body benefits the educational and lived experience at Trinity and, more broadly, society,” said Berger-Sweeney. “This decision does not change our core values…we will continue to focus on supporting a diverse community.” The case regarding the banning of affirmative action involved two institutions: Harvard College and the University of North Carolina (UNC), respectively the oldest private and public universities in the U.S. UNC only began to admit Black undergraduates after an order from a federal court in 1955, and while Harvard did not institute a race-conscious admissions perspective until 1978, its program soon became one of the country’s leading examples of affirmative action. Affirmative action policies originated from the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s and continued to develop in the following decades to address discrimination that women and minority groups face. In two lawsuits originally filed in 2014, Harvard and UNC were sued by Students for Fair Admissions, a nonprofit claiming that the universities’ race-conscious admissions policies unfairly disadvantaged white and Asian students. In the Students for Fair Admissions, Inc. v. Harvard College and the UNC cases, the Supreme Court held that these universities violated the 14th Amendment and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, ruling that U.S. colleges and universities can no longer use race as a determining factor in admissions.
At Trinity, affirmative action was a factor in admissions before this decision. In a recent interview Matthew Hyde, dean of admissions and financial aid, stated, “It’s not going to be as simple and straightforward for us to be aware of how we maximize diversity in our admitted cohorts. It’s a limiting factor on our ability to do it with the same degree of intentionality [as before]. There has been one attribute of a candidate we’ve been limited to know, and that’s uncomfortable to me… that’s the one thing we can’t have awareness of.” The conversation around the recent affirmative action ban has sparked dialogue about legacy admissions, sports recruitment, income-based admissions and the ethical implications of the continued use of these practices in college admissions. Hyde, describing legacy admissions at Trinity College, puts it as “a non-issue at the college… it never surfaced as a point of making an admissions decision. It might have informed a conversation about a candidate and their connection with the college via family legacy, but it never dictated a decision.” Regarding income-based admissions, Hyde stated, “We do need to have awareness of the family’s ability to afford the experience and the investment we need to make the Trinity experience possible for each and every student. At that point, we need to be aware of their ability to afford. We make some hard choices. I would say, at least in my time here, it impacted between 8-12% of our final admissions choices.” After the news of the ban, the college put together a list of core values and steps as they move forward to navigate this new age of admissions. Trinity College “retained outside counsel for the purposes of reviewing the league policy as it relates to race-conscious admissions and recruitment practices” in April and May 2023.
Court’s decision, Trinity put new protocols into place to ensure continued diversity and accessibility within the admissions process. An optional Common App prompt for the 2023-2024 application cycle was included to gain more insight into an applicant’s background. It asks: “The identities you claim, the challenges you face, and the successes you enjoy shape the background for your college experience to come. What is an aspect of your background that you are excited to share and/or explore as a member of the Trinity community and why?” Additionally, an agreement was signed by the College Board to include Landscape as a tool in the college’s applicant evaluation process, which is a recruitment and admissions tool. According to the College Board website, Landscape “provides consistent high school and neighborhood information so admissions officers can fairly consider each student within the context of where they’ve learned and lived.” Hyde specifies that “it gives us a rating and a score of the obstacles that might have existed for this student to find success academically.” Many schools will use this program in their admissions process this year.
On Sept. 20, Trinity’s cultural group La Voz Latina hosted a roundtable discussion on the recent Supreme Court ruling on affirmative action featuring speakers from the Hispanic Studies department, the Admissions Office and the Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI). Panelists present included Director of Admissions Anthony Berry, Vice President of DEI Anita Davis, visiting lecturer in history Cristian J. Padilla Romero and Hispanic Studies professor Priscilla Meléndez. Throughout the panel, they discussed current implications of the decision and their own experiences with affirmative action when they were college students. Davis touched on her experiences as a Black student at a predominantly white institution where she was often told “You’re only here because…” implying she was undeserving of her spot as a university student and had only been admitted because of affirmative action. She also discussed the fastpaced increase of diversity within Trinity’s faculty and staff in the last few years because of affirmative action. Romero discussed how many schools historically were built and maintained for the “rising elite,” a cycle that was beginning to be disrupted because of increased diversity through affirmative action. He encouraged students to turn to activism and reminded them of the power they possess to change unjust institutions and their practices. Meléndez expressed her lack of trust that legal structures will do the “right” thing, touching on the U.S. legal system’s legacy of injustice and exclusion. As the panel ended, the conversation shifted from affirmative action to legacy admissions. Similar to Hyde’s perspective, Berry shared that Trinity does not take legacy into “significant consideration.” The faculty present at this La Voz Latina event all emphasized putting power and responsibility into the hands of the student body.
Moving forward, Trinity claims to continue with the same principles and priorities: supporting a diverse community, enhancing the Trinity experience for historically underrepresented students, and uplifting awareness, exploration and engagement as a cornerstone for Trinity’s path forward following its Bicentennial year. The upcoming application season for the Class of 2028 will be the first admissions cycle post-affirmative action. The demographics of the newest class of Trinity students arriving in 2024 will reveal the impact of this Supreme Court decision on the student body and demonstrate whether Trinity’s new policies are an effective way of maintaining diversity on campus.