Lafayette reaffirms commitment to Affirmative Action after federal policy reversal

As Lafayette’s most diverse class formed over the summer, the Trump administration reversed President Barack Obama’s policy on affirmative action in colleges and universities.

Affirmative action policies, according to the Nation Conference of State Legislatures, are those in which an institution or organization actively engages in efforts to improve opportunities for historically excluded groups. Consequently, the reversal of this policy has put colleges’ admissions’ stance on affirmative action into question. However, it currently doesn’t have an effect on Lafayette, according to Gregory MacDonald, Vice President of Enrollment Management.

“The recent administrative guidance doesn’t change the fact that the Supreme Court reaffirmed, as recently as two years ago, the fact that institutional diversity can enhance the educational experience,” MacDonald wrote in an email.

MacDonald is referring to the Fisher v. University of Texas case in 2016, which reaffirmed the two Supreme Court cases’ decisions in 2003 that deemed affirmative action constitutional, saying that diversity is a “compelling governmental interest” to justify the use of racial preferences in college admissions.

The decision was made in June to abandon the guidelines Obama set, which recommended colleges use race as a factor in admissions to boost the number of underrepresented minorities in higher education. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, however, said these recommendations go against his November 2017 memorandum, which prohibits the Department from making rules without following the procedures required by Congress.

“[Attorney General Jeff Sessions] is rescinding 24 guidance documents that were unnecessary, outdated, inconsistent with existing law, or otherwise improper,” according to the United States Department of Justice.

President Alison Byerly said that because Lafayette is a private college, it has much more leeway than a public college does when it comes to their methods of acceptance. As such, Lafayette can create independent admissions policies.

“We look at many elements of a student’s background and that has been a well established method of admissions…that doesn’t have to change as a result of this kind of administrative perspective,” Byerly said.  

Within the college’s holistic approach, race and cultural background are two of the elements taken into consideration when the college admits students. 

“We employ affirmative action with pride and confidence,” Dean of Admissions Matt Hyde said.

With increased numbers of applications in general, affirmative action and a holistic admissions approach has resulted in increased racial and multicultural diversity at Lafayette. Since 2010, the college’s applicant pool has grown by more than 40 percent and 30 percent of the class of 2022 are people of color, according to MacDonald.

According to the common data set of Lafayette from 2010, 15 percent of students were non-white, excluding international students and students whose racial identity was categorized as “unknown,” both of which groups may include both white and non-white individuals. The common data set of 2017 shows that the same statistic had risen to 19 percent that year.

“Faculty and staff who have been here a long time often comment to me that the student enrollment is significantly more geographically, racially and socioeconomically diverse now than compared to 10 years ago,” MacDonald wrote.

“The recent success in adding more diversity within the faculty ranks will help maintain this momentum. That said, we continue to work on making Lafayette accessible to the widest possible range of students,” he added.

If the Trump administration is able to create legislation that would legally bind private institutions such as Lafayette to change existing policies, the college admissions team has prepared themselves.

“We have talked about it as a team and become more aware and attuned to the Trump administration’s declaration, but as a team we have reaffirmed how we do our work with pride and confidence,” Hyde said.

Continuing to create increasingly diverse classes of students is important and recognized, Hyde said.

“We have not just opportunity, but obligation to make sure that each one of our new classes is increasingly diverse and more reflective of the larger world,” Hyde added.

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