The Common App Will Now Hide a Student’s Race and Ethnicity


Each year, millions of students applying to college through the Common App are given the option to check a box, disclosing whether they identify as Hispanic, Asian, black or white, among other options.

Now, the US With the Supreme Court expected to soon rule against race-conscious admissions — and with colleges eager to comply with the law — Common App has taken a retrograde step on what’s known as the “race box.” .

From August 1, colleges will be able to hide the information In those boxes of their own admissions teams, Common App Chief Executive Jenny Rickard said in an interview.

Common App said in a statement that the new option will help colleges “comply with the legal standards set forth by the Supreme Court regarding race in admissions.” A nonprofit, Common App manages a comprehensive application used by more than 1,000 colleges and universities.

The decision, which appears to be aimed at freeing colleges from litigation, is one of the first concrete examples of how college admissions could change if the Supreme Court bans or limits race-conscious admissions. Choosing a college may also put more pressure on applicants to indicate their racial and ethnic background through other means, primarily in essays or teacher recommendations.

The scope of the court’s decision, expected in late June, is unknown. But the justices showed keen interest in the use of the race box during oral arguments last fall.

Colleges have said they will comply with the law, but are wary of future litigation. Groups opposed to affirmative action have said they may file lawsuits that could test the limits of the Supreme Court’s decision.

According to Edward Blum, founder of Students for Fair Admissions, the plaintiff in the current court cases against Harvard and the University of North Carolina, the potential case against the race box is clear.

“If racial preferences are determined to be illegal, then it is imperative that racial classification boxes not be allowed on college application forms,” ​​he said.

Legal experts said ticking the race box on the Common App could give universities some degree of deniability, and perhaps some protection from lawsuits.

Articles are less likely targets for lawsuits. As a practical matter, with more than 50,000 applicants to Harvard alone, it would be difficult to weed out mentions of race from the thousands of application essays colleges receive each year.

But more litigation around broader issues of diversity, such as scholarships for black students, seems likely. “There is a massive, well-organized, well-funded attack agenda,” said Art Coleman, managing partner of Education Counsel, a consulting firm that has worked with universities on Supreme Court cases.

During oral argument, the Supreme Court justices spent considerable time discussing the race box and the article of application. Some variation of the phrase “checking the box” was used more than 30 times during five hours of arguments before the justices last October.

Patrick Strawbridge, an attorney with Students for Fair Admissions, argued with the justices when it would be appropriate for admissions officers to know an applicant’s race. He suggested that much would depend on the context of the disclosure.

“What we object to is the idea of ​​race and ethnicity itself,” Mr Strawbridge told the judges.

“Race in a box-checking way, as opposed to race in an empirical statement?” Justice Amy Coney Barrett, one of the conservative majority expected to be sympathetic to the plaintiffs, elaborated.

Mr. Strawbridge said it would be hard to object to a thoughtful essay invoking student race in the context of a very personal story.

An essay on overcoming racial discrimination could be allowed, as it “clearly demonstrates that the applicant has overcome some of the difficulties,” Mr Strawbridge told the judges. “It tells you something about an applicant’s character and experience beyond the color of their skin.”

Isiah Crawford, president of the University of Puget Sound, said he hoped the court would agree with Mr. Strawbridge.

“We strongly believe that student applicants should have a First Amendment right to be able to speak about their background if they choose to do so,” said Dr. Crawford said.

If discussion of a student’s race were completely banned, he said, a white applicant to an Ivy League school might be able to write about having a student’s children, while a black student “talks about himself.” may not be able to. Background, whose grandparents were not allowed to go to schools like the Ivy League, and how that has influenced their choices.

The Common App will continue to collect racial information for its own purposes, such as looking at application trends among different groups, regardless of what the Supreme Court decides, Ms. Rickard said. Because the nonprofit does not enroll students, it is unlikely to be the target of litigation.

Colleges will be able to suppress racial information from both the print and digital forms of applications. The Common App already allows colleges to hide information about test scores if they don’t consider test scores in admissions. Colleges have also been able to hide students’ social security numbers, dates of birth, gender and criminal history.

Mr. Coleman said he hoped the court’s focus during oral arguments on checking the box meant it would rule against only the most simplistic and conservative use of race in admissions.

Otherwise, he said, trying to hide an applicant’s race can become an exercise in absurdity. For example, during an applicant interview, “Should you go behind the scenes?”

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