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Op-Ed: Saving campus diversity

Vice President of Demos | , Heather McGhee | 8/2/2012, 1:04 p.m.
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In just two short weeks, the Supreme Court will begin reading official amicus briefs in the Fisher v. University of Texas case to decide whether colleges can continue to strive for diversity in their student bodies or if Chief Justice John Roberts and a conservative majority will end the legacy of Brown v. the Board of Education for good.

While the court settled this issue in 2003 in the University of Michigan Grutter v. Bollinger case, the court is now more conservative and Roberts is, observers agree, determined to undo the court's legacy of promoting racial integration in education. What's more, a decision that it's unconstitutional for the government to consider a citizen's race even to promote equal opportunity could stop us from fixing disparities in our prisons, lending, health care and more. It could force governments to ignore race, exactly when our country is becoming more diverse and racial inequalities are worsening.

But there is hope. When the Univ. of Michigan Law School's admissions policy was under review at the Supreme Court, nearly 14,000 law students signed on to an amicus brief, and they won. The United States Students Association is preparing a brief to the Supreme Court in the Fisher case, with a goal of naming thousands of high school and college students in support. They have set up a website, www.savecampusdiversity.org, where students can sign up before the deadline of Wednesday, Aug. 8. Imagine having your name on the case of Brown v. the Board of Education. This is that big.

The amicus brief is only the first step, of course. Oral arguments before the court are expected before the election, and opponents of diversity programs and affirmative action will surely say that America doesn't need these programs anymore with an African-American in the White House. Of course, we all know that many high schools are as segregated today as they were before Brown, and with college costs tripling over the past 20 years, we will still need to work to make the doors of college open to youth of all backgrounds, no matter who is in the White House.

The Fisher case will invite us all to take part in a robust national conversation about opportunity and the benefits of diversity given to every American in a global economy. But for now, students can sign on at www.savecampusdiversity.org and be a part of history.

Heather McGhee is the vice president of Demos, a national policy organization headquartered in New York City.