Pressing Forward Beyond Affirmative Action

By now most people know about the Supreme Court’s disappointing decision to end affirmative action and many of us are still processing what impact it may have on our work and the lives of those we support. Personally, I mourn the loss of one of the few long-standing tools for increasing racial equity in America — especially as a person who benefitted from affirmative action policies in my own educational journey.

But while the end of affirmative action is a setback, I don’t see it as a nail in a coffin. Yes, the headwinds we face in our work are blowing harder than ever, but this decision should serve as a catalyst to spark innovative thinking around how we move forward and accelerate change. The National Fund remains steadfast in our commitment to dismantling racial inequity in the workforce and creating a better economic outlook for people of color.

In her dissent, Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson said, “…deeming race irrelevant in law does not make it so in life…Race still matters to the lived experiences of all Americans in innumerable ways, and to­day’s ruling makes things worse, not better. If the colleges of this country are required to ignore a thing that matters, it will not just go away. It will take longer for racism to leave us. And, ulti­mately, ignoring race just makes it matter more.”

I couldn’t agree more with Justice Jackson’s sentiments. America cannot just bury its collective head in the sand and pretend racism is no longer a problem to be solved. We must actively address the unique, systemic challenges that plague communities of color — even with one less tool in the toolbox.

So, now that we’ve lost one tool in the toolbox, how do we solve this? Affirmative action policies focused mainly on ensuring qualified students of color gained acceptance to elite 4-year institutions whose doors were previously closed to them. The reality is that the majority of people of color navigate a different path through post-secondary education toward jobs and careers. We need more resources to flow into credential programs at community colleges, HBCUs, and other minority-serving institutions that aren’t in the spotlight. We need resources that will help mitigate barriers that cause people to drop out.

One of the National Fund’s current program priorities centers on exploring the career navigation journeys of people of color and leading efforts to bring together community colleges, industry partnerships, and employers to disrupt the drivers of occupational segregation within the postsecondary education system. I’m looking forward to seeing what fresh solutions rise to the top of this innovative work.

Simply put, racial inequity holds us all back. Though affirmative action will not be the tool that gets us to where we need to be, its loss shouldn’t prevent us from finally ridding ourselves of this centuries-old problem.

Amanda Cage

-- President and CEO, National Fund for Workforce Solutions