Diversity

Response to Supreme Court ruling on affirmative action

ASBMB committees weigh in on the 6-3 decision against race-conscious admissions programs at Harvard and the University of North Carolina
Lea Vacca Michel
June 30, 2023

The U.S. Supreme Court ruling on Thursday on affirmative action raises significant concerns among advocates for diversity, equity and inclusion, and against discrimination, including the members of American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology’s Maximizing Access Committee, Public Affairs Advisory Committee and Education and Professional Development Committee.

In a 6–3 decision, the high court found that the use of race as a factor in undergraduate admissions by Harvard University and the University of North Carolina violates the Equal Protection Clause of 14th Amendment. The ruling overturns legal precedent that allowed institutions of higher education to consider race as one of the many factors in a holistic admissions process.

Affirmative action has been a vital tool used to rectify the historic and persisting system of discrimination that promotes the exclusion of U.S citizens, thereby creating the circumstances for their identification as “historically-excluded, underrepresented populations.” In other words, affirmative action was designed to include the citizenry who had been systemically excluded, thereby opening the door of opportunity so that their capabilities and excellence would be acknowledged and allowing fair competition in education and in employment.

Affirmative action is important not only for historically marginalized individuals but also for all in the educational space. Diversity makes us stronger — as individuals, as scientists and as a community.

This court decision is an enormous step backward, and the denial of opportunities is reminiscent of a bygone era.

Many scholars, students, and educators — especially those from marginalized backgrounds and identities — may feel that the overturning of such a long-standing policy, at a time when it remains sorely needed, means our nation and those in power no longer acknowledge their existence and experiences.

The ASBMB and others in the biochemistry and molecular biology community acknowledge systemic inequities in STEM and will continue to work toward their elimination. We strongly support our colleagues and young scholars who have thrived and contributed greatly to the scientific enterprise, despite the barriers and inequities that they have faced.

The ASBMB will continue to advocate for and fight for those whose voices are not being heard right now. Protecting and increasing diversity, equity, inclusivity, and accessibility is at the core of the society.

Finally, we reaffirm our commitment to ensure that all ASBMB events, initiatives, awards and programs will strive to enhance equity and inclusion. Despite setbacks such as this court ruling, we will not stop fighting for justice and inclusion. We echo Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson’s message of dissent: “(D)eeming race irrelevant in law does not make it so in life.”

This response was written on behalf of and in collaboration with members of the ASBMB Maximizing Access Committee, Public Affairs Advisory Committee and Education and Professional Development Committee.

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Lea Vacca Michel

Lea Michel is a professor at the Rochester Institute of Technology and chair of the ASBMB Maximizing Access Committee. She received the 2021 ASBMB Early-Career Leadership Award.

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