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Principles for Racial Equity in Higher Education

Colleges and universities have a moral, ethical, and legal duty to promote equal opportunity. This was true during the days of de jure segregation before Brown v. Board of Education, through Bakke and Grutter and remains true today following the Supreme Court’s decision in Students for Fair Admissions v. UNC and Harvard. While the Court struck down the lawfulness of Harvard’s and UNC’s programs and made it more difficult for universities to engage in voluntary race-conscious admissions, it did not hold that universities may no longer pursue diversity and racial equity through other means. However, there is concern that as a result of the decision, some colleges and universities might waver in their commitment to diversity and opportunity or retreat from their obligation to address persistent racial inequalities.

Post-SFFA, it is imperative that colleges and universities clarify their commitments to racial equity and consider how their policies and practices across the student experience from recruitment and admissions to campus climate and completion might implicitly reproduce racial inequities. To that end, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law has identified a core set of principles that are foundational to achieving racial justice in higher education. Each principle is aligned with strategies and policy changes that are equity-focused, practical, and legal. While there is no silver bullet to ensuring racial equity in higher education, these guiding principles and strategies will help institutional leaders and advocates forge fair and just pathways to leadership and economic prosperity for students across races and ethnicities to learn and grow together, preparing them to fully participate in a thriving multiracial democracy.

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Colleges & universities must:

  1. Build learning environments that advance diversity, equity, inclusion, accessibility, and belonging.
  2. Adopt holistic and equitable admissions practices that value and affirm the identities, strengths, achievements, and experiences of all applicants and confront the advantages of wealth and privilege that stifle opportunities for underrepresented students.
  3. Expand access for all students by making college more affordable, building pipelines with traditionally underrepresented communities, and strengthening transfer policies.
  4. Support the success and wellness of all students by directing resources that respond to needs inside and outside the classroom.
  5. Establish mechanisms for transparency and accountability for racial equity that center authentic student and alumni engagement and collaboration with community partners.


Colleges may continue to pursue diversity through lawful means.