July 3, 2023

Black Tech Figures Respond To Supreme Court’s Affirmative Action Ruling

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled against colleges and universities considering race in their admissions process, leaving the tech industry with mixed opinions on the outcome.

How did we get here?

Affirmative action was introduced in the 1960s to ensure equal employment opportunities for women and minorities. 

For the last four decades, the Court held that institutions and colleges could consider race, among other factors, as part of a holistic review in their recruitment and admissions process. Other considerations include academic achievement, athletic ability, and legacy status.  

However, recent lawsuits, including those against Harvard and the University of North Carolina (UNC), have challenged its use in college admissions. Students for Fair Admissions (SFFA) argued that Harvard’s admissions policies discriminated against Asian American applicants. 

After multiple appeals, the Supreme Court accepted the case in 2022 and has now decided to strike down race-based affirmative action in higher education.

The vote was 6-3 in the North Carolina case and 6-2 in the Harvard case.

Who really wins?

Some prominent tech figures have vocalized support for the decision. Notably, Andrew Chen, a general partner at leading venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz (a16z), took to Twitter to express his happiness that the Supreme Court is ending what he calls “one of the most visible forms of structural racism in society.”

In contrast, founder and CEO of diversity and inclusion training at company Awaken Michelle Kim tweeted that the “notion that marginalized people, especially Black and brown people, are getting an “unfair advantage” over white people or even East Asians is simply untrue, delusional and anti-Black.”

“As an Asian American, I firmly and unequivocally denounce our allying with white supremacy. Our proximity to whiteness will not save us.”

Several major tech companies such as Meta, Google, and Apple also previously filed a brief with the U.S. Supreme Court, signaling support for affirmative action programs at Harvard.

What does this mean for the Black tech community?

Private equity billionaire Robert Smith condemned the Supreme Court’s decision on LinkedIn, stating, “The division of the Supreme Court to ban the use of affirmative action will have a devastating impact on our country.” 

“We are now in the precarious position of maintaining the progress that has been made while preserving and enhancing opportunities for generations to come.”

The removal of affirmative action comes at the same time we are seeing a decrease in jobs in tech for diverse workers, and at the same time, four major media companies have lost their Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion officers.

Smith predicts the Supreme Court’s decision will make it more difficult for students from traditionally underrepresented backgrounds to enroll in colleges and universities as it underscores the need for every corner of our society to be more intentional in the ways that we attract, recruit and support diverse students and talents. 

Indeed, affirmative action has proven effective in increasing diversity in higher education. Studies have found that without it, there will be fewer Black and Hispanic students and a higher proportion of white and Asian American students.

For us, by us

Founder and CEO of Squad, Isa Watson, wrote: “All the Silicon Valley VCs relishing in the ending of AA should tell you exactly why they very rarely fund Black-led companies.”

“We’re not “supposed” to be there anyways.”

Others also disagreed with the outcome but used it as a “reminder to support and attend HBCUs (Historically Black Colleges and Universities).”

“Let’s send our best and brightest elsewhere,” said Brandon Gleaton.

Co-founder and CEO of the Opportunity Hub (OHUB) Rodney Sampson agreed, tweeting, “We must launch a national capital campaign to extend our nation’s HBCUs, fund Black tech boot camps and hubs to upskill millions for in-demand tech jobs and fund thousands of startups.”

What About Legacy Admissions?

Affirmative action is, however, still here for certain categories in the admission process.

The Supreme Court’s decision to ban the consideration of college admissions left other kinds of admission preferences in place.

For example, the final stage of Harvard’s admissions process included the evaluation of  four factors: whether an applicant is a legacy, whether they were recruited as an athlete, whether they are eligible for financial aid, and before the court’s ruling, their race.

Race is now unconstitutional to consider, but the other categories remain.

One study showed that 43% of white students at Harvard are legacy athletes or related to donors and staff. In comparison to only 16% of Black, Latino, and Asian American students.

“Peep how this same energy does not exist at all around legacy admissions. Racism still lives out loud in so many ways,” said Watson.

Sara Keenan

Tech Reporter at POCIT. Following her master's degree in journalism, Sara cultivated a deep passion for writing and driving positive change for Black and Brown individuals across all areas of life. This passion expanded to include the experiences of Black and Brown people in tech thanks to her internship experience as an editorial assistant at a tech startup.