The Supreme Court on Affirmative Action: Who Will You Blame Now?

Jun 30, 2023 6:05:51 PM


It was 2001, and I was a freshman at Purdue University majoring in English education. I was walking on campus with a group of white female “friends.” One of the women started complaining about how hard she had it because she had to work on top of doing coursework at Purdue. 

She looked at me and said, “Not everyone can get their tuition paid.”

I replied and said, “What is that supposed to mean?”

“Don’t you have one of those minority scholarships?”

I told her that I didn’t have a minority scholarship and said, “My tuition is paid because my dad got shot during the Vietnam War and earned a Purple Heart. My tuition is paid because my father served this country, not because I’m Black.”

As my aunt frequently says, “You could have heard a mouse piss on cotton” because she was so quiet.

Then, breaking her silence, she finally said, “Well, you had an easier time getting in because they have to have a certain number of minorities.”

I could feel a surge of heat rise throughout my body. I was mad. How dare she assert that I only got into Purdue University because I was Black! I said, “I earned the academic honors diploma in high school. I earned my spot.” Then, I started walking off from the group.

I was too mad to have a productive conversation, and how could my “friend” say this to me? How could my other white friends stand there in silence until I walked off? 

Unfortunately, this wouldn’t be the last time I was accused of having a leg up because of affirmative action.

The Supreme Court Strikes Down Affirmative Action in College Admissions

As reported by NPR, “Students For Fair Admissions sued Harvard and UNC, claiming, among other things, that the schools discriminated against Asian American students who had SAT and grade scores higher than any other racial group, including whites, and who made up, at Harvard, for instance, 29% of the entering class last year. SFFA asserted that the number should have been higher than that, though Asians are just 7.2% of the U.S. population.”

On Thursday, June 29, the United States Supreme Court ruled in a 6-3 decision that race cannot be a factor in college admissions. This overturns the precedent set in Grutter v. Bollinger in 2003. 

What does this mean? 

Before this ruling, affirmation action was already banned in nine states. One of those states is California. Since this ban, California universities have not been able to reach their diversity goals. People who are upset that the Supreme Court overturned affirmative action believe that the impact will be similar to what California experienced, and there will be a lower number of racially diverse candidates accepted into college.

Unintended Consequences of Affirmative Action

Affirmative action, many times, is oversimplified to people receiving an opportunity based on the color of their skin. In reality, the aim is to be intentional about looking at who was admitted. No one was ever admitted into a university solely based on race; instead, race was one of many factors considered.

It was not “the” factor or the only factor.

Students could not have a 1.0 GPA and get into college because they were Black.

Because people assumed that skin color was the determining factor, Black people have been called affirmative action hires or accused of only getting into college because they were racially Black.

A few years ago, I shared how a principal responded when I shared that a colleague called me an affirmative action hire.

A principal once told me that my tone was too stern when I responded to a colleague. Please tell me what tone I should use when a white colleague curses at me and also says I’m an affirmative action hire. The principal actually answered and said, “Don’t take it personally.” 

At that job, there were four rating categories: highly effective, effective, needs improvement, and ineffective. I earned the rating highly effective. The principal who hired me had actually been inside my classroom at my previous job before she hired me. For some reason, this white colleague believed my skin color got me the job, not my merits.

I wonder who or what mediocre people lacking melanin will blame for their mediocrity now that affirmative action has been struck down?

They won’t be able to blame affirmative action. Maybe, they will hold up that mirror and start doing some self-work.

And that so-called white “friend” who assumed I attended Purdue solely based on my being Black? She ended up transferring to a less academically rigorous environment. I don’t think that happened because she was white. She simply couldn’t do the work. 

Shawnta S. Barnes

Shawnta (Shawn-tay) S. Barnes, also known as Educator Barnes, is a married mother of identical twin boys. She navigates education from not only the educator’s perspective but also the parent’s perspective. She has been an educator for nearly two decades. Shawnta works with K-12 schools, universities, & education adjacent organizations through her education consulting business Blazing Brilliance. She is an adjunct college professor, supervises student teachers, Indy Kids Winning Editor-in-Chief, Brave Brothers Books Co-founder, & CEO, and Brazen Education Podcast host. She holds five education licenses: English/language arts 5-12, English to speakers of other languages P-12, library/media P-12, reading P-12, and school administration P-12, and she has held a job in every licensed area. Previously, she has served as a school administrator, English teacher, English learners teacher, literacy coach, and librarian. She won the 2019 Indiana Black Expo Excellence in Education Journalism Award. In 2023, she completed her doctorate in Literacy, Culture, and Language Education with a minor in Learning Sciences. She is an urban gardener in her spare time and writes about her harvest-to-table journey at To learn more about Shawnta, visit

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