Supreme Court Decision on Race in Admissions Leaves Reason to Be Hopeful

Monday's decision by the U.S. Supreme Court may leave us all waiting to see what the case of a Texas woman challenging her state's affirmative action laws means for all of us in higher education, but there is reason to be hopeful. In remanding the case back to a lower court, the high court acknowledged the compelling need for diversity at colleges and universities and left the door open for schools to use race in order to achieve it. As pointed out in a friend-of-the-court brief submitted by me and my fellow University of California chancellors, the UC experience since the passage of Proposition 209, which prohibits racial preferences in college admission, has taught us that it is nearly impossible to achieve true diversity on our campuses without taking some account of race and ethnicity in admissions.

Yet we believe strongly that true diversity is a value we ignore at our peril and that we risk great harm to all of our students if we do not operate institutions that prepare students to live and work in an increasingly diverse world. We remain challenged at UC to maintain enrollment of African American and Latino students reflective of their representation in California high schools, a challenge made greater by Proposition 209. It is fortunate that the court left open the opportunity for schools outside of California to use race in admissions, and we hope that our experience here will show how necessary that can be. We also hope to show that those of us unable to consider race in admissions are still striving to serve the goals of diversity.

Diversity serves California and beyond. To that end, the UC as a whole, and UCLA as its most populous campus, have adopted admissions policies that are designed to draw together a student body that looks like our state, our nation and our world. We have instituted an admissions policy that, while hewing to the law in not considering race as a factor, looks at students' grades, test scores, activities and community involvement within the context of their life experiences and environment. Life challenges like disabilities, low family income or being the first in a family to attend college can factor into our decisions. This allows our admissions staff to consider, for example, what it means for a student at a low-performing high school to achieve high grades and participate in his school's advanced and honors classes while working two jobs and caring for a younger sibling. Every one of these students has his or her own unique and compelling story. Our process yields exceptional students like Angela Sanchez, who spent two years in a homeless shelter while attending Hoover High School in Glendale. Today, the (very) recent UCLA graduate also directs a student group that tutors homeless K-12 students in the Los Angeles area.

UCLA also helped create the UCLA Community School, which opened in 2009 in partnership with the LAUSD and the multi-ethnic community it serves in the Mid-Wilshire district. This K-12 school illustrates just one of many ways UCLA is working to improve educational opportunities for the youth of Los Angeles.

Yet we are very aware that because the numbers of African American, Latino and Native American students remain relatively low at UCLA, these students see too few like themselves in their classes or living in their residence halls.

Here at UCLA, we have more than 800 student clubs and organizations serving every conceivable ethnic group, religion and interest, as well as several major ethnic studies centers. Although all of us -- students, faculty, administrators, staff -- work hard to create a welcoming campus climate, we know some of our students still feel isolated.

UCLA and UC are committed to providing paths to a bright future for all eligible students, particularly in California. We will press on, backed by some of the greatest minds in the world, in our efforts to serve our students, our state and our nation by providing the world with well-educated and fully prepared graduates who know how to work well with each other because they have learned to do so here on our campus.