Claremont Colleges react to SCOTUS’ affirmative action ruling

Several Claremont Colleges presidents expressed their disappointment at the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision ending affirmative action in college admissions. They also reaffirmed the collective commitment to diversity, as seen in Pomona College’s class of 2019, above. Courier Photo/Steven Felschundneff

by Steven Felschundneff |

The presidents of the Claremont Colleges responded quickly with messages of disappointment and resolve following the United States Supreme Court striking down affirmative action for student admission on June 29.

“We write today to share our disappointment in the Supreme Court’s decision that removes the ability for our Office of Admission to consider race and ethnicity in its admission decisions,” Harvey Mudd College President Maria Klawe said in a statement.

Pomona College President G. Gabrielle Starr released a similar statement.

“The U.S. Supreme Court today reversed decades of precedent with a ruling that ends race-conscious college and university admissions,” Starr wrote. “This decision overturns several generations of policy, and lifetimes of effort, aimed at supporting the ongoing struggle against racism in this country by increasing opportunity. But the struggle to end racism and promote opportunity is not one I am prepared to cede, even as the tactics colleges use must now change.”

The local college presidents were reacting to the announcement that the Supreme Court’s six conservative justices ruled that private Harvard College and public University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill were illegally discriminating on the basis of race, a violation of the 14th Amendment.

Writing for the majority decision, Chief Justice John Roberts said that for too long universities have “concluded, wrongly, that the touchstone of an individual’s identity is not challenges bested, skills built, or lessons learned but the color of their skin. Our constitutional history does not tolerate that choice.”

However, Roberts left a door open for universities to continue making some decisions based on race, specifically that an applicant could volunteer the information.

“Nothing in this opinion should be construed as prohibiting universities from considering an applicant’s discussion of how race affected his or her life, be it through discrimination, inspiration, or otherwise,” Roberts wrote.

Due to a ballot measure passed by voters in 1996, the University of California and the California State University systems are already forbidden from using race as an admission consideration. That means places like Claremont, with its seven private institutions, will be a testing ground for how the law will be implemented in the state.

Klawe described the admissions process at Harvey Mudd as evaluating each student “holistically,” and expressed “a commitment to consider each candidate as an individual with their own lived experiences, perspectives, strengths and challenges.” This includes the student’s racial identity, along with their sex, gender and socioeconomic background.

According to Klawe, in 2006 just 30% of students at Harvey Mudd identified as female compared with 50% in 2022. That recent parity is still a rarity for STEM-based institutions, she added. During a similar period the percentage of Black students on campus has increased from less than 1% to 7%, while the proportion of Hispanic students has gone from 5% to more than 20%.

The Harvey Mudd College class of 2026 includes 10.5% international students, 20.2% first-generation students and 36.1% of the class is underrepresented minority students, according to Klawe.

“While we are deeply disappointed in the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision today, we are more committed than ever to our mission to prepare leaders who understand the impact of their work on society — all of society — and we rededicate ourselves to working within the boundaries of this decision to ensure that we can maintain a diverse and thriving community of future leaders eager to find solutions to the challenges facing our world.” Klawe said. “Society deserves nothing less from us.”

A joint statement from Pitzer College’s President-Designate Strom C. Thacker, Interim President Jill Klein and Vice President for Admission and Financial Aid Yvonne Berumen read, “Pitzer, like Harvard and UNC, has a holistic admissions process. By considering numerous attributes of our applicants (including race), we seek to admit a diverse body of students who will become engaged, socially responsible citizens of the world. Our mission and core values focus on providing an academically rigorous, interdisciplinary, liberal arts education that emphasizes social justice, intercultural understanding, and environmental sustainability. Our shared community’s diversity, along racial as well as other lines, enhances this mission and our ability to deliver the highest quality education to all Pitzer students.”

In 2005, Pomona College made a commitment to diversity on its campus including a statement from its board of trustees that articulated the goal of “creating a dynamically diverse community.” That same year, President Emeritus David Oxtoby convened the President’s Advisory Committee on Diversity. That committee had “a two-fold charge: to review and monitor, quantitatively, the diversity of the Pomona faculty, staff and students, and to propose new approaches to increasing diversity in all areas and ways of strengthening the sense of community on campus for all groups,” according to “Diversity at Pomona,” part of the college’s admissions website.

For the 2021/2022 school year Pomona’s enrollment totaled 1,764 students, of which 45% identified as male and 55% as female. White, non-Hispanic people were the largest racial group in the student body at 34%, followed by Asian at 17%, Hispanic/Latino at 16%, Black 9%, two or more races at 8%, and race or ethnicity unknown, 4%. American Indian/Alaska Native and native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander were both less than 1%.

Pomona’s professors comprise 55% men, 45% women and 37% “faculty of color.”

According to Pomona College’s common data set form for 2022/2023, while race is a consideration when reviewing a student’s application, it is not a factor the college considers “very important.” Further, an applicant’s racial/ethnic status, geographical residence and being “first generation” are “considered” when making an admission decision, however, none of those traits are “important” or “very important.”

Academic GPA, the application essay, rigor of secondary school record, extracurricular activities, talent/ability, and character/personal qualities, are all factors the college considers to be very important, according to the data set.

“Pomona College will adhere to this latest court ruling surrounding affirmative action; we also remain committed to our values of diversity, equity and inclusion,” Pomona President Starr said. “To any prospective students or families discouraged by today’s decision, I want to be clear: Pomona College will continue to seek applicants from all backgrounds. We will continue to strive for a student population that meaningfully reflects our nation’s democratic strengths and values. Remember, this is a nation which has long sought to reinvent itself to honor the radical ideals of equality enshrined in our constitution.

“This means recruiting excellent students from all walks of life; it means outreach without fear or favor across this country and around the globe. It takes the engagement of alumni and families to share our commitment and spread the word. It takes a campus committed to full inclusion in our classrooms, on our teams, in our studios and theatres, in our residences and in all that we do.”


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