Students for Affirmative Action Rally in Washington, D.C.
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- As discussions begin on two affirmative action cases, students in support of race-conscious admissions demonstrate outside the U.S. Supreme Court.
- The UNC for Affirmative Action student group led education and advocacy efforts on campus in the weeks leading up to the oral arguments.
- Until the final decision is made, students at UNC-Chapel Hill hope to continue creating a diverse coalition on campus.
In September, Sarah Zhang (class of 2025), Joy Jiang (2025), and Christina Huang (2026) realized that even though oral arguments for the most significant affirmative action ruling in nearly 45 years were approaching, not enough students on the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC-Chapel Hill) campus were talking about it.
The three students co-founded UNC for Affirmative Action, a student group dedicated to raising awareness on campus about affirmative action and its implications on admission policies at UNC-Chapel Hill and on campuses nationwide.
A group of pro-affirmative action UNC-Chapel Hill students mobilized Monday alongside students from Yale and Harvard on the U.S. Supreme Court steps in Washington, D.C.
Even as rain poured, students continued demonstrating.
What if the Court Rules Against Affirmative Action?
For over half a century, affirmative action has helped shape the nature of college admissions. The role that race should play in admissions has always been debated. In a recent BestColleges survey, students are evenly divided in their support of affirmative action: 37% are in support, while 35% are not.
The Supreme Court will decide the fate of affirmative action starting with oral arguments Monday on two separate cases from Harvard University and UNC-Chapel Hill.
To Huang — a first-generation Asian American student — preserving and enhancing campus diversity is essential to a positive college experience for all students.
"The opportunity for education is so meaningful to all families because the United States is a melting pot of different cultures and identities. It is important that we give all students and all families equal opportunity to pursue postsecondary education," she told BestColleges.
— Christina Huang, UNC-Chapel Hill student and UNC for Affirmative Action co-founder
"While having diversity on campus does impact a lot of students of color, it benefits all students. I learn so much from people who are different from me … It is important for all students to have that experience in the classroom," she said.
For Huang and Jiang, diversity on their campus has helped them feel less isolated as Asian American students.
"Having diversity is so important because you are not the only Asian American in the room, and you don't always have to silence yourself. You don't have to assimilate to being in a white institution," said Huang.
"Asian Americans aren't a monolith," she said.
"We are so diverse — even within our own group of people. Diversity isn't just the difference between the color of our skin and the way we think, but within your small group of people, we all think differently," she said.
According to Huang, Asian Americans are often used as pawns for those seeking to nullify affirmative action.
The model minority myth — which stereotypes Asian Americans as naturally intelligent and flattens the experiences of Asian Americans — is "used to create a barrier between people of color and Asian Americans," Huang said.
Overturning affirmative action would exacerbate this "racial wedge," harming Asian American students' ability to build solidarity with other racial groups on campus, according to the UNC for Affirmative Action leaders.
"But what if they decide that being race-blind is right?" asked Jiang.
"They start paying less attention to the importance of the holistic person and how our race creates our identity and how race plays into our day-to-day lives," she said.
"Merit should not be the only thing that determines our education. Our knowledge of the world is not just a four-hour exam like the SAT. Looking at the holistic person is very important," Jiang said.
However, the group is still hopeful about the decision.
"As much as we focus on the fear factor, we also want to focus on hope. The Supreme Court has supported this decision for nearly 40 years, so we are hopeful they will continue doing that," said Jiang.
"We are hopeful, but also fearful and ready to defend as much as we can when the opportunity comes," she said.
Getting Campuses Involved
In the weeks leading up to the oral arguments, UNC for Affirmative Action sparked support on campus.
"The amount of support we've gotten from administrators, professors, and other students has been incredible. Tabling has been one of my favorite parts so far because of the way that students have shown up in their support," said Huang.
In the pit, a public space for student clubs and awareness projects, over 100 students filled out boards describing why they supported affirmative action.
They also had meaningful conversations with students on campus, specifically those who do not support affirmative action or those who were not aware of what it was.
At Harvard, students demonstrated on campus in the week leading up the oral arguments with performances, rallies, and sign-making.
On Sunday, about 150 students from UNC-Chapel Hill, Harvard, and Yale joined in Washington, D.C., for a diversity day conference, where student leaders and activists spoke out. Students also met with the NAACP Legal Defense Fund's legal team and lawyers committee allies.
Until the Final Decision, Students Continue Building Support
As universities across the country wait for a final decision to come out in June, UNC for Affirmative Action hopes to continue building a coalition on its campus.
According to The Daily Tar Heel, the group currently works alongside Asian Americans Advancing Justice but hopes to connect with the UNC Black Student Movement, the Asian American Center, Sonja Haynes Stone Center for Black Culture and History, and the Carolina Latinx Center to continue building a diverse campus presence.
The group is currently working on an open letter to the admissions office asking for more transparency on how they plan to make sure that diversity on campus is a priority, regardless of the Supreme Court's decision.
"We want to make sure that we have systems in place in case the case is overturned, but even if we are celebrating when the result comes out, we want to make sure we continue to have this conversation," said Jiang.
"I strongly believe that talking about my Asian identity and talking about my Asian American activism influenced my application and is the main reason why I'm at UNC," said Huang.
"Now that I'm accepted at UNC, I can try to help future students and advocate for them," she said.