The Department of Education and the Department of Justice released a joint “Dear Colleague” letter this week to provide guidance on the recent Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, et al. Supreme Court ruling.
The letter, which is co-authored by Assistant Secretary for the Office of Civil Rights Catherine E. Lhamon, Deputy General Counsel for the Department of Education Philip H. Rosenfelt, and Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Department of Justice Jocelyn Samuels, reaffirms the Departments’ support for diversity, citing the proven benefits of diversity in educational settings including cross-racial understanding and dialogue, the reduction of racial isolation, and the breaking down of racial stereotypes.
Because the recent Supreme Court ruling did not include any major changes to Affirmative Action policies, the main message of the letter is primarily a reiteration of previous guidance handed down in 2011 and 2013. The 2011 document referenced in the Dear Colleague letter titled, “Guidance on the Voluntary Use of Race to Achieve Diversity in Postsecondary Education,” provides examples of how postsecondary institutions can approach achieving diversity, such as:
· considering an applicant’s socioeconomic status, first-generation college status, geographic residency, or other race-neutral criteria;
· creating pipeline programs that foster student body diversity at a postsecondary institution by increasing potential applicants’ awareness of the institution and by assisting a diverse group of potential applicants to be better prepared to qualify for admission;
· and implementing outreach efforts that target school districts or high schools that are underrepresented in the institution’s applicant pool by focusing on geographic underrepresentation (e.g., schools in the Midwest, or urban or rural communities) or other characteristics (e.g., low-performing schools or schools with high dropout rates).
For states where Affirmative Action bans were upheld, the letter suggests consulting with the appropriate state legal official to ensure that the institution’s actions are consistent with state policies.