Black Ivy Leaguers Speak Out Against Supreme Court Decision – Rolling Stone

Affirmative Action Reactiong Black IVY Students

When Briannah Cook, 21, thinks about the years before college, she remembers anxiety, stress, and wondering if all of her hard work would still end in failure. The Black Chicago student’s list of extracurriculars included volleyball, soccer, dance, karate, violin, clarinet, and several student clubs and unions in addition to maintaining a high G.P.A.— which created a grueling 14-hour day schedule. But her goal wasn’t just a prestigious Ivy League seat: it was the chance to receive an advanced degree she knew her family couldn’t pay for on their own. 

“I was such a perfectionist and high-strung. So that was already pressure that I was putting on myself,” Cook tells Rolling Stone. “Adding to the fact that I knew that my family couldn’t afford to pay for college, the thought of [going into debt] would keep me up at night.”

For Cook, the answer ended up being Brown University. And she’s not the only one. While the eight private Ivy League schools in the U.S. have long stood as elite institutions that represent generational wealth, privilege, and whiteness, efforts to attract a more diverse student body have seen a steady increase in the percentage of students of color. According to Brown’s 2021 diversity and inclusion action plan, the school doubled its number of graduates from historically underrepresented communities, and for Harvard, 18 percent of students admitted in 2021 were black. So for Black students specifically, a walk back of affirmative action isn’t just concerning. It could mean the loss of hard-fought ground in elite institutions. 

On Thursday, with a 6-3 vote, the Supreme Court ruled that affirmative action is unconstitutional, effectively ending decades of legal precedent that allowed colleges to grant higher consideration to applicants based on race. “The devastating impact of this decision cannot be overstated,” wrote Justice Sonia Sotomayor in her dissent. But even with Democrats pushing back against the ruling, the question of “what next?” is weighing on Black students. The fear— according to eight Ivy League students who spoke to Rolling Stone — is what a potential decrease in diversity could mean for the students yet to come. 

Norah Ostin, a  20-year-old Harvard student, tells Rolling Stone that she and other Black students on campus are already feeling extremely “disheartened” by the ruling, as it perpetuates many of the same assumptions and microaggressions Black students in Ivies have to face every day.

“When you’re on campus, you can feel the legacy and the wealth compared to the number of black students. I’m no stranger to people thinking I’m only here because I’m Black,” Ostin says. “When it’s [internet] comments or trolls, you can let that roll off your back. But now, it kinda feels like this whole nation, this Supreme Court, thinks I don’t deserve to be this institution.”

“A lot of code-switching is involved in how I interact with people from different backgrounds,” Jonathan Afowork, a Princeton sophomore, adds. “And at times, you know, it can be exhausting.” 

Such concerns are also shared by Princeton junior Jenny Nwokeji, 20. “Especially as a black woman, there’s still an internalized fear that ‘maybe I don’t belong here,’” she says. “I’ve been able to succeed academically and I have a lot of great friends. But there’s a fear that this isn’t a place built for me.”

Several students told Rolling Stone that community has become a major aspect of their college experience. They’ve found clubs, housing, and campus resources dedicated to students of color or similar backgrounds. But if admission rates for students of color begin to decline, each of the students who spoke to Rolling Stone say they’re concerned about a chilling effect on future students’ well-being. 

“This decision feels like an immense step backward,” Yale student Momona Hadish tells Rolling Stone. “The Supreme Court decision reinstates barriers that decrease diversity in institutions—and the thought that it could impact the makeup of our organization, Yale, and universities generally, is worrying.”

According to Cornell junior Lemachi Enweremadu, he’s devastated about the Supreme Court ruling. But he tells Rolling Stone he’s also worried about the social implications of Black students in incoming classes slowly losing their communities on campus. 

“I found a home within the black community and there are people in my corner,” Enweremadu says. “But when I first arrived, it was very hard.  I needed time to adapt. That’s going to intensify. Because these kids have worked so hard. And as minorities, we know we have to work harder than everyone else.”

The Supreme Court decision doesn’t mean there will be an immediate decline in the numbers of Black college students across the country. Yale, Princeton, and Dartmouth leaders all reaffirmed their commitments to racial equality and diversity in their student body on Thursday, while a statement released by Harvard officials suggested they would continue to consider “an applicant’s discussion of how race affected his or her life” in admissions decisions. But there are numerous historical examples of how difficult it can be to achieve diversity in a student body without affirmative action — and without an equitable backup plan.

In 2006, after California passed a law banning affirmative action, UCLA’s freshman class of nearly 5,000 students only had 96 Black students. And a 2006 ban on race-conscious admissions in Michigan saw the percentage of Black students in the incoming class at the University of Michigan drop to 4 percent by 2021, from 7 percent the year the ban was instituted. For now, students say they’re focused on holding their leaders to any promises they make in the heat of this moment— and trying to hold back what is beginning to feel inevitable. 

“The Yale administration reaffirming their commitment to diversity [is] encouraging, but I’m under no illusion that these statements will ensure that they’ll hold to Black students and communities,” Yale student Anna Elesinmogun says. “We hope to hold Yale accountable to its promises and will fight to ensure that the interests and needs of Black and brown communities on and off campus are central to the decision-making process.”

In the meantime, students are refusing to let a conservative ruling affect their view of their own accomplishments. 


“What’s giving me hope now is this event will bring the community a lot closer because we could lose all of this, all the work that we’ve put in to build and have hundreds of black organizations on campus,” Ostin says. “Just because the Supreme Court made their decision doesn’t change the fact that [race]still matters. And it matters to the student body.”

“Before, I felt more of an inclination to try and defend myself and be like, ‘No, like, look at my transcript. Look at my clubs. Look at my GPA,’” Cook adds. “Now I don’t feel the need to do that. Because at the end of the day, I’m at Brown, and whoever’s mad about it, isn’t. They can stay mad.”

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