The following is a guest contribution and reflects the authors’ views alone. For information on how to submit an a piece to the Opinion section, click here.
Last week, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that race-based affirmative action in college admissions is unconstitutional. This decision is disappointing, but unsurprising. It will undermine decades of social and racial progress and make the college admissions process less equitable towards underrepresented groups, especially Black, Latine, and Indigenous students. Race-based affirmative action not only improved diversity on campuses, but was an anti-racist policy that will be impossible to replicate with the “color-blind” mindset the Court seems intent on enforcing — a mindset that will perpetuate de facto discrimination. As Justices Sonia Sotomayor ’76, Elena Kagan ’81, and Kentaji Brown Jackson noted in their dissent, our nation “is not, and has never been, colorblind,” and students’ experiences and lives are still inextricable from their racial identities.
As progressive Princeton students, we support President Eisgruber’s statement criticizing this Supreme Court ruling and are proud that our university’s president and administration are taking a principled stance on behalf of the University. Their support and commitment to not only maintaining but increasing the diversity of Princeton demonstrates how we can lead by example and chart a course for equitable and accessible college admissions for our peer institutions.
While it will take time to make specific plans to adapt to this ruling, Princeton must find new ways to preserve diversity in the admissions process. This ruling ultimately forces us to expand our conception of what a diverse student body looks like and how it can be achieved. Principally, we believe that Princeton should put more weight on socioeconomic status in the admissions review process by implementing an expansion of class-based affirmative action.
Race matters in the United States, a country with a history and ongoing practice of systemic racism. While class-based affirmative action cannot entirely replace the effects of race-based affirmative action, the strong ties between race and class in the United States mean that Princeton can take steps to alleviate both racial and economic disparities by establishing economic class as a more influential consideration in each applicant’s review process. Notably, strengthening class-based affirmative action is not prohibited by the recent Supreme Court ruling.
Bolstering class-based affirmative action and class-conscious admissions would address serious inequities and promote socioeconomic diversity at Princeton. Unsurprisingly, the Daily Princetonian’s Class of 2022 Senior Survey and its frosh survey for the Class of 2026, reveal that Princeton’s student body comes from disproportionately wealthy families. Compared to data from the U.S. Census Bureau, Princeton has a slightly higher percentage of students in both class years that come from families with household income greater than $500,000 than the percentage of American households that make over $200,000. Furthermore, the percentage of students with family incomes greater than $200,000 at Princeton in both classes was over two and a half times that of all American families. On the other hand, only 14.7 percent of surveyed Princeton students have annual household incomes of under $40,000 a year, while nearly double the percentage — 25.2 percent — of American households earn less than $35,000.
While the current process is “holistic” and supposedly considers an applicant’s socioeconomic context, the Princeton student body’s income distribution indicates that resource-conscious admissions are not being practiced to an equitable degree.
Many of the criteria for admission create this inequity: Legacy admissions significantly advantage a pool of applicants who are disproportionately white and wealthy, perpetuating cycles of privilege from our parents’ generations. Expensive extracurricular activities and sports (such as golf or crew) that can be prohibitively costly for first-generation, low-income (FGLI) students can confer considerable advantages in the admissions process.
To remedy this, Princeton’s admissions criteria should state explicitly that low-income students will not be disadvantaged for lacking expensive activities on their resume. Applicants who engage in activities that are intellectually enriching or beneficial to their communities should be prioritized. The admissions office should value initiative, scholarship, and impact independent of financial resources. An applicant who spent their summers advocating for local public transportation funding or tutoring middle schoolers in math should be valued more than a wealthier applicant who spent the same summers at summer programs that cost thousands. A higher percentage of socioeconomically underprivileged students would be admitted by prioritizing applicants with achievements and experiences that have no price tag.
Many universities will be modifying their admission processes in the coming months to promote socioeconomic and racial diversity, and Princeton should lead the charge. As an elite university, Princeton has the opportunity to set a precedent for other colleges looking for methods to maintain diversity and equity under the restrictions of the SCOTUS ruling. Princeton should use its influence to promote an admissions process that utilizes class-based affirmative action more thoroughly, while continuing to lower financial barriers for applicants and students. To truly be in the service of the nation and humanity, Princeton must commit to creating a more socioeconomically and racially diverse student body.
Lake Liao is an incoming first-year from Troy, Mich., intending to study politics. He organizes with Princeton’s Young Democratic Socialists of America (YDSA) chapter and Divest Princeton. In his free time, he does environmental law activism, climate politics research, and national organizing with the Democratic Socialists of America. He can be reached by email at email@example.com.
Nate Howard is a junior from Princeton, N.J, majoring in the School of Public and International Affairs. He is a co-president of the Princeton College Democrats and organizes in Divest Princeton, and is active in other progressive groups as well. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This guest contribution is signed by the following groups:
Alliance of Jewish Progressives
Asian American Student Association
Black Student Union
Muslim Advocates for Social Justice
Princeton African Student Association
Princeton Generational African American Students Association
Princeton Association of Black Women
Princeton College Democrats
Princeton Progressive Coalition
Princeton Progressive Law Society
Princeton Quest Scholars Network
Princeton Young Democratic Socialists of America (YDSA)
Students for Prison Education, Abolition, and Reform
The Pride Alliance