Transcribe your podcast

From the New York Times, I'm Michael Barbaro. This is The Daily. Last summer-We begin tonight with the Supreme Court striking down affirmative action and reshaping college admissions. In a landmark ruling, the US Supreme Court overturned nearly 50 years of precedent and banned the use of affirmative action in college admissions.


In a 6:3 decision, the justices ruled that Harvard University and the University of North Carolina violated the Constitution.


In doing so, the Court eliminated the single most powerful tool for ensuring diversity on America's college campuses and forced college admissions officers and high school seniors to figure out what the college admissions process should look like when race can no longer be taken into account. It's college application season, a stressful time for high school seniors and their But now, six months since affirmative action was repealed, things are even more uncertain for many Black students across the country. Today, Daily producer, Jessica Cheung, documents how over the past year, both students and college officials tried to navigate the new rules. It's Friday, January fifth.


So this past July, just two weeks after the Supreme Court ended affirmative action, I flew to Rochester, New York. To meet some of the students, we were part of this first historic class to apply to college under an affirmative Action Band. Hello.


Hi there.


How's it going? How are you all? Good. How are you? I'm good. The group of about 90 high school seniors had also flown in from all across the country to Nazareth University. They were brought here by Peer Forward, a nonprofit that helps mostly Black and Hispanic students from low-income communities apply to college. They had gathered here for a workshop on how to make their college essay stand out. We're rolling in now. Okay. I walked into a small classroom with an instructor and five seniors who were sitting facing a whiteboard, scribbling into their spiral notebooks with tips on how to write the perfect college essay. We're envision that no one else know who you are. Hundreds of students, they never met you. They cannot see who you are. So what makes you different? The college essay is a high-stakes genre of writing that is supposed to capture everything a 17-year-old is and was and everything he or she could offer to the college of their dreams. Starting a essay strong. And with that high stakes genre are rules. Rules about what to do. That's a good thing that he just said, a hook. Write a hook.


What exactly What do we mean by show and tell? Show, don't tell. You guys remember when we were in third or fourth grade, we would have to bring an animal in and we would have to do what? Well, some schools had to bring an animal. But you had to break something in. And rules about what not to do. Many of the students told me about certain edicts around the college essay, Don't write a Sob Story, No COVID, No Dying Grandparents. These are topics that won't set you apart from the batch. How can we help? What are some words we should be using to help the reader visualize what we're saying. But what about an applicant's race? Historically, race could offer an edge to these students. But in its ruling banning affirmative action, the Supreme Court said that colleges couldn't do that anymore. Using race as a factor in missions is no longer legal. To play it safe, many of the schools these kids are applying to have decided to hide what they call the race box, which means that while students might still check the box that corresponds their race, the schools will be blind to it.


So unlike any other applicants before them, this year's class of high school seniors face a new dilemma. With the Race Box gone, the question becomes, should students write about race, or should they avoid it altogether? Could writing about race actually work against them? I think that was an awesome job. So tomorrow- But by the end of the session, the instructor never brought any of this up. Hi, guys. I'm Jess. So during their lunch break, I walked into the dining hall to ask students of color how they were all thinking about this. I was wondering. Oh, thank you. I walked over to a table, strewn with pizza crusts and leftover French fries. At that table, I met two kids sitting next to each other. Her name tag read Jordan Williams and Francesco Macias from the Bronx.


Some clubs I'm in is Pan Minister Diora, drama, mantra.


Diora told me he wants to be a corporate lawyer, and Francesco wants to be an electrical engineer.


I've been really fascinated in electronics and how they work. I really like to build stuff. I like to design things, create things.


Have you designed anything?


I made a mini Tesla coil.


A what? He patiently explained to me that a Tesla coil is a tightly bound coil of wires that can produce a spark. He made it for his eighth grade science fair.


I was watching I was watching this documentary on Nikola Tesla, and I saw it and I was like, maybe some people made a miniature model.


Francesco comes by his passion pretty naturally.


I was born here, but my parents are from Ecuador.


When his grandfather emigrated from Ecuador in the 1960s, he settled in Queens doing laundry at a hospital. Francesco's dad grew up there and eventually became a technician for buildings around the city. So Francesco grew up tinkering and building stuff with his dad. At one point, they built a computer he found on the sidewalk using spare parts from other computers that were thrown away.


I guess it's just really affected my life.


When Francesco was 12, he started watching YouTube videos of engineers exploding Coke Coke bottles and making roving hoverboards. When he looked at where many of these engineers went to college, time and again, he saw one name, MIT, and that became his dream.


I really love engineering.


Francesco did everything right to make himself an attractive candidate. He's a 4.0, and he has more extracurricular activities than he can possibly list on the common application, which includes student body vice president, engineering club, community service, woodworking, school theater, and he's a third-degree black belt in taekwondo.


But his test scores are lower than MIT's average, and now he thinks the Supreme Court's decision on affirmative action won't give him the boost normally given to Latino students like him. They're taking out the race, which I don't have that much of an upper hand.


With MIT's acceptance rate at just 4.8%. Losing this upper hand feels like a big loss. And so other parts of his application are rising to a new level of importance. Most crucially, his essay.


So I'm going to have to write something that is about me.


He told he's writing about his leather briefcase.


Because I found that bag at a thrift store for $10.


That helped him conquer his shyness, helped him gain confidence, and make friends. But he was struggling with whether or not his story should include his race. Do you think that you might consider working in your racial identity to your essay now that you know that the box is gone?


I don't know. Because on one part, it's like, I can show who I am more But on the other hand, I don't want to sound too redundant. It's like when they tell you, Don't write about a sob story because they read a sob story all the time. I just want to write about me myself.


And you don't want to talk about it?


I'm not really.




Because, although, yeah, it's a part of my identity, but I don't really let it define me in a sense. So it's one of these things. I'll ask questions from my other peers and the advisors to see what to do. It is confusing Especially because other generations- Jordan, the aspiring corporate lawyer, was sitting next to us, quietly listening this whole time.


What did you write about? I asked what was in his essay so far.


I wrote about one of my favorite movies, and I related it to my life.


What's the movie?


Training Day.


He said the movie Training Day taught him to question conventional wisdom.


I always felt like there's a lot of pressure to follow in with the crowd. But if you question, Why am I following this crowd when I stand out myself?


That's why I wrote about it. Jordan told me more about himself. He could have written about a lot of things. As a Black kid raised by a single mom, he knew his biological dad, but his dad chose not to be an active part in Jordan's in his life, and so he would get himself into trouble, succumming to peer pressure. But his grandfather encouraged him to set his own course in life and focus on school. And now he's an honor roll student. But none of that was in his training day essay.


No, not apparent in my essay at all. Not apparent in my essay at all.


Would you consider working it in your essay?


Now I'm Black. Now that I'm thinking about it, yeah.


How would you do that? I don't even know. I don't even know.


I would probably have to say that I'm a Black kid from the Bronx, I I don't know. That's crazy. I didn't even think about that. It's weird. It's a weird situation.


Francesco and Jordan weren't the only ones confused. As I talked to more students at the workshop, it was clear that the confusion over the ruling was everywhere. I am not really too educated on what's happening in the government right now. I don't really know what's going on. They told me they were worried and uncertain of what it meant for them. I was just like, damn, it's not going to help me, I guess. It's not going to help you. Because I was hoping it would. One of my essays were actually to run about my identity, my culture, being Black and Nigerian. I feel like now, a firm that actually gone to colleges can actually say, Well, we don't really care about your identity. There was panic. Over news, it was being shared on Instagram. It says here, In Missouri, the attorney general directed all colleges to immediately stop considering race and scholarships. About the University of Missouri and the University of Kentucky would go beyond the ruling and end race-based scholarships. Some of my peers saying, Now I can't apply to this school or now I have to change this option. And in the absence of answers, some were making up their own, sometimes wrongly.


You think that students might redact that they were part of NAACP? Yes. Oh, wow. And so it's leading some students to hide their race. So it was a plus before. Now you feel like it's a minus to be flag. In the fear of that's too race-related. So now you're hiding that side of yourself to make others feel better in a way. And with all of this misinformation floating around. Lunch is over. Okay, thanks. You Have a good next session. You, too. Thank you. These questions and confusions eventually made their way inside the classroom. Why is it that? Into the next session. When two students sparred over, if you don't indicate your race your essay, would colleges know at all? When you fill out FASFA, you still have to answer the race question, so it's not going to be just out of the question entirely. It's not like race isn't a question at all. And if you apply for financial aid, as students said, they would know, wouldn't they? But then now the concern comes in is, will they tackle that as well? Because they're already having- And if the schools knew their race, what would they do with that information?


There was a pause. I waited for the adults in the room to give some answer. So we're in our second session. But no. The writing coach gently guided their attention back to class. Let's make sure that we're being attentive. We want to be an active listener. I eventually looked into this, and the schools, in fact, wouldn't know a student's race from financial aid forms. But no one at the workshop told the kids this. So the writing workshop continued business as usual. Between classes, I had asked the head of pure Ford, which is guiding all these kids, how their guidance would change as a result of the affirmative action ban. He said it doesn't. He told me they were still waiting to hear more from colleges themselves about how the ruling might change their admissions formula. So after the workshop, I started reaching out to those admissions offices, and it turns out the people charged with implementing the court's decision are just as confused as the students applying.


We'll be right back.


After my trip to the writing workshop in Rochester, I wanted to get a better understanding of how admissions offices around the country were going to change. Out of the thousands of universities and colleges in the US, a small percentage, some put the number around 10%, are actually affected by the decision. The ones who are practicing affirmative action in the first place. But the small percentage are the most selective in the United States. Think the top 100 colleges in the US News & World Report. Colleges that are known for their outsize ability to help students from poor backgrounds become high earners after graduation. So these were the colleges I started to call. Hi. How's it going? Hey, Jeff. How are you? Good, how are you? Hey, Jeff. Hi. How are you? Gary, thank you so much for taking the time to talk. How are you doing today? I called over 30 people inside the admissions world. We're still trying to understand.


I would say the ruling specifically for Carlton and we're working with our legal counsel to ask them these specific questions.


Some admissions offices never responded to my request. Some admissions offices wanted to talk, but were vetoed by their general counsel. Some would only talk to me off the record.


A college can be sued for many reasons in a time when there's a substantial movement in the United States, it seems to be reacting against even the mere idea of diversity.


And that's because colleges are treading this new terrain cautiously. No school wants to end up in the legal battle like Harvard did, who was a defendant on the that led to the overturning of affirmative action. The trial unearthed embarrassing discoveries about Harvard's notoriously opaque admissions system, including something called a personal score, which admissions officers use to rank traits like an applicant's self-confidence and likability, and routinely scored Asian applicants near the bottom. And Harvard is still being investigated for its mission practices. But the other admissions officers that did talk to started to give me a sense of what it's like inside the schools. Hey, Matt.




Matt McGann is the Dean of Emissions and Financial Aid at Amherst College, a small liberal arts college in Massachusetts. It has an acceptance rate of 7%.


Because we do want to attract a diverse applicant pool, we do believe that a diverse student body makes for a better residential liberal arts education.


Currently, about half of its student body are students of color.


Even before this decision, race was never by itself the reason why someone would be admitted.


Mccann told me that before the ruling, Amherst achieved this diverse student body, in part by considering race among a variety of factors. Do you play a sport? Do you play the French Horn? Did you grow up and on a farm or black in an inner city? Race was just one piece of the puzzle.


It was always one of many parts of a whole person review. To better understand a student's context to better understand a student's life, but never it by itself, never a determining factor.


What McGann told me is something I heard from every admissions office I talked to, that race by itself was not determinative. But the Supreme Court disagreed saying that race was determinative for a significant percentage of admitted Black and Hispanic students at Harvard and UNC. Now, places like Amherst have lost their ability to consider race.


We're going from a time where we can consider everything that a student wants us to consider to there being one aspect that remains important in society that we must ignore.


When the affirmative action cases got to the Supreme Court store, McGann, along with many administrators at Amherst, sent an amicus brief to the court and predicted that without affirmative action, the number of Black students on their campuses will drop from 7% to 2%.


I don't have a law degree, although the longer I do this, I feel like my legal expertise certainly is increasing.


And after the court's ruling, McGann and his team at Amherst poured over the decision, which came in the form of a 237-page PDF.


We didn't get the chance to ask the Supreme Court, We do this. So what now? It's not a step-by-step manual. We're left with the work to figure out how we make sure that we're in compliance with everything.


But what does being in compliance mean exactly? Unlike with sports, orchestra, and geographic status, race is now off the table. But what if participating in an extracurricular, like the Black Student Union, has to do with race? How would that work? Just to get specific, with an extracurricular activity, for instance, where a student says that they were a member of the BSU, how could that have been considered before the Inferniment Action Ruling and what changes about it after?


That cannot be put in the context of Well, understanding a student's participation in an activity through a lens of racial status is something that, at the very least, cannot be as easily done anymore. We're still working on our training and guideline language on how the admissions staff should approach these questions. We're still working on that.


All right. Well, thank you so much for your time, and good luck with the next admissions cycle. Again, thank you for the time.


It's been an interesting conversation, and I appreciate your thought approach to it. So best wishes..


The dean at Amherst isn't the only one scratching his head over this ruling. In several on and off the record conversations with current and former deans of admissions, they expressed tremendous uncertainty about how all of this was going to work, how you not consider a race when it could be so apparent in things like a student's extracurriculars, their last name, their essay topic. But as I continued to talk to admissions officers, I finally started to get somewhere. They seemed to all point to a key passage in the decision that was in this moment of darkness, a North Star. Chief Justice Roberts wrote it, and it goes, Nothing in this opinion should be construed as prohibiting universities from considering an applicant's discussion of how race affected his or her life, be it through discrimination, inspiration, or otherwise. But he says, a benefit to a student who overcame racial discrimination, for example, must be tied to that student's courage and determination. Or a benefit to a student whose heritage or culture motivated him or her to assume a leadership role or attain a particular goal must be tied to that student's unique ability to contribute to the university.


In other words, the student must be treated on the basis of his or her experiences as an individual, not on the basis of race. So what does that mean? Robert says that if a student does write about race, you as the admissions officer will now have to connect race to a lived experience like overcoming discrimination. Then you'd have to explain how overcoming discrimination uniquely connects to the mission of the college, like how overcoming discrimination shows resilience and promise. And these are the students that we're looking for. The distinctions between race and race as a lived experience is a granular distinction, and I wasn't sure how it would play out. But by the fall, as colleges launched their applications on the Common app, I began to notice a new essay question pop up. Over and over again, I kept seeing schools introduce new supplemental essay prompts that draw words directly from Robert's passage. Prompts like, talk about lived experiences and how you could uniquely contribute to their campus. It was a subtle change, but a change nonetheless. For example, Brown University used to ask us applicants to write, About a time when you were challenged by a perspective that differed from your own.


Here, it allowed applicants to argue that by simply belonging to a minority group, other students can learn from them and vice versa. It relied on a previous Supreme Court precedent that says colleges can use affirmative action to create a diverse learning environment. But after the overturning of that precedent, Brown replaced it with a new prompt this year with words drawn directly from Roberts. I had read, Share how an aspect of your growing up has inspired or challenged you, and what unique contributions this might allow you to make to the Brown community. The key change here is that there is now a right race essay and a wrong kind. In the end, I found that at least 20 selective colleges, including several in the Ivy League, had changed their essay questions this year using words from Robert's passage. But the students this year will have a hard time understanding this distinction on their own. The plaintiffs will look at any institution that see a dip and wonder, were you wink, wink, using a proxy, but really going against the law? I want to be really clear, and I would want you to print that Colorado College is going to follow the law.


I know that it's an optimistic goal to try to maintain compositional diversity, and we probably won't, to be honest with you, but I don't want to set a goal that we will... We've got to set aspirational goals.


But you're right that our numbers probably will decline.


In my conversations with admissions deans, they told me their schools were still committed to diversity, but the schools are in a bit of a bind. If they produce the same level of racial diversity in the incoming year as the year before the ruling, they put themselves at legal risk. The anti-affirmative action opposition are on the look out for schools that, behind the closed doors of admissions offices, are practicing a under-the-table affirmative action. I talked to Jeff Brunzel, who was the dean of admissions at Yale, but is working with Morehouse College to figure out what this new world of admissions is starting to look like. He crunched the numbers. He estimates that there will be a 20 to 30% drop in Black enrollment in the top 100 colleges. He says he expects HBCUs, like Morehouse, to catch some of those 20 to 30 %. But it's unclear how many of those students those colleges can actually support. And as for Latino students, no one I talked to has speculated on where they might wind up. I asked Morgana Amherst, given all of this, whether students of color applying this year who have a harder time getting into schools, schools like Amherst.


I would hope that that student would know that nothing about this changes who they are. It's incumbent upon the colleges. It's not the student's job. The student should present themselves as wholly and fully and as best they can. It's on the colleges to lawfully consider and have an admission process that allows them to live up to their mission.


Okay, I have it on the recording thing.


Okay, great. You're holding it to your ear like you're on the phone. Just weeks before Francesco submitted his application to MIT, I called him after school. To start, I would just love to know how you're feeling about the applications you have so far.


I really like it. I feel that it speaks to who I am.


I wanted to know where he landed, whether he ended up mentioning race in his application essay.


No. I don't think I did. I did try to stay away from it.


He says even though Race is still a big part of who he is, it's not the thing he wants admissions officers to see.


I don't be categorized saying, Oh, he's an Hispanic. Then saying, Oh, look at what he's done. He's done this, he's done that. I was actually speaking to one of my friends about it. We were saying it's essentially being, I guess, confined to a box. It's like, Oh, what race are you, like Hispanic. I have pride for my race. I'm not saying, Oh, I'm ashamed. But specifically pertaining to college application, I want to show them who I am as a person, what my dreams are, what I like, what are my aspirations, who I am.


When you think about someone boxing you in because they know your racial background, what do you think that boxing in is or what do you think that boxing in means?


I want to be confined by saying, Oh, they have this preconceived notion of me being Hispanic. Okay. I don't know their attitudes or their feelings, but whether I like it or not, there are people in the world who don't like my race. They have differing opinions. That's okay. People have their right to have their own opinions. But I want to go in saying who I am. So if I ever were to be confined in that box, essentially an issue for me.


It's a way to play safe.


Yeah, just play it safe.


In a world where affirmative action was still practiced by colleges and by admissions officers, where it would actually be a favor to you, would you have mentioned your racial background?


If it were an adventure to me, then I'd take it. But now that it's gone, I'd rather play it safe.


His decision is fueled in part by the same narrative I heard from the other students at the workshop six months ago, which is this feeling of increasing distrust. Francesco knew that affirmative action guaranteed that his race could only help him. But now that that protection is gone, he's worried that the discrimination he sees everywhere else in the world could now enter the admissions process.


Because at the end of the day, the world is not a kind place as much as I don't like it. I got to deal with it, especially heading into the adult world. It's scary. And confusing. But I'm also trying to keep an open mind and just figure my way out through this world, this new world I'm entering.


A few weeks ago, I met up with Jordan, who, if you remember, was working on his essay on the movie Training Day. He ended up scrapping that altogether. He said he thought more about the court's ruling, and unlike Francesco, he decided he would not only mention his race, but he was going to dedicate the topic of his essay to his identity, about growing up as a Black kid in the Bronx, he said. If the Supreme Court ruling says race doesn't matter, he's saying, Race matters to me, and this is how. And that's the choice a generation of 17-year-olds is having to make in a moment as formative as applying to college. Do Do they choose to define themselves by their race like Jordan? Or do they hide their race, like Francesco? And while that choice may or may not mean the difference between getting in and not, it will almost certainly shape how they see themselves and how they think the world sees them.


We'll be right back. Here's what else you need to know today. The Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the bombing attack that killed 84 people in Iran on Wednesday. A claim that, according to the Times, aligns with an intelligence assessment by American officials. The claim is significant because some Iranian leaders had initially sought to blame Israel for the attack, raising fears that Israel's war in Gaza could widen into a regional conflict. Now that ISIS has said it was responsible, That possibility seems less likely. And new documents released by Congressional Democrats show that during Donald Trump's presidency, his businesses received at least $7.8 million from 20 foreign governments, most of it from China. The transactions offer concrete evidence that Trump engaged in the conduct that Congressional Republicans allege that President Biden as they try, so far without success, to build a case for impeaching him. Today's episode was reported and produced by Jessica Cheung with help from Will Reid. It was edited by Lindsay Garrison and Michael Benwa. Fact-checked by Susan Lee, contains original music by Marion Lozano, Pat McCusker, and Ron Eumesto, and was engineered by Alyssa Moxley. Our theme music is by Jim Brunberg and Ben Lansberg of WNDYRLE.


That's it for the Daily. I'm Michael Barbaro. See you on Monday.