The Desegregation of Higher Education, Race Conscious Admissions Policies and the Federal Constitution: Before Brown vs. Board and Beyond

By Lark, Taj'ullah Sky | The Journal of Pan African Studies (Online), June 2012 | Go to article overview
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The Desegregation of Higher Education, Race Conscious Admissions Policies and the Federal Constitution: Before Brown vs. Board and Beyond


Lark, Taj'ullah Sky, The Journal of Pan African Studies (Online)


Abstract

It has been more than 50 years since Brown vs. Board and almost equally as long since the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment in the context of Higher Learning Institutions and the enforcement of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 substantiated the necessity of the continuance of Affirmative Action Policies to enforce Race Conscious Undergraduate Admissions for minorities at colleges & universities was put into law, and African Americans in particular and other historically underrepresented groups are still struggling in numbers at public institutions. This article will review a series of historical and current events that will highlight strides in college admissions policies, where we are today, and the current legal debates that challenge the future of race based admission policies.

Introduction

When most pinpoint the time in history when the desegregation of school was fought, they reference the U.S. Supreme Court's landmark 1954 ruling Brown v. Board of Education. However, Higher Education would begin its legal fight for desegregation before Brown vs. Board, with four years of litigated cases previous to this landmark case with the Supreme Court rejecting the "separate but equal" doctrine in a higher education. The strides taken in the four years preceding Brown vs. Board, including Swanson's case against the University of Virginia would set the legal framework and shape Thurgood Marshall's legal strategy that would put an end to Jim Crow in education (Lavergne, 2010).

The rejection of Gregory H. Swanson" application for admittance into the University of Virginia's Law School was a defining moment in higher education which opened doors not only to its law school, but other doors to other graduate schools within the Commonwealth and nationally by forcing the courts to examine and define the meaning of their own laws. The university's strong resistance to desegregation created an opportunity for it to be challenged and ordered to change. Although begrudgingly by force and viewed by some as token desegregation, an increased number of Blacks began to apply to the University of Virginia and schools across the nation (Beeler, 1950).

Swanson's subsequent admission to the University would open the threshold of numerous landmark cases of access denied because of race from Blacks and Whites well into the 21st century. Claims of reverse discrimination would arise when a White college applicant named Allan Bakke was rejected twice by the University of California in 1978 (Ball, 2000). In 2000, the University of Michigan undergraduate affirmative action policies would be challenged in Gratz v. Bollinger with a federal judge ruling that the use of race as a factor in admission was constitutional. The 2003 case of Grutter v. Bollinger the University of Michigan's Law school's affirmative action policy was challenged with the judge ruling that the policies were unconstitutional only to be upheld in the U.S. Supreme Court with the U.S. Supreme Court emphatically affirmed the value of diversity, and argued that the state has a compelling interest to promote diversity on college campuses (Sullivan, 2006).

While many milestones would result from Swanson's challenge to UVA, the University of Virginia would continue to struggle with racism and diversity issues within its student body, faculty, and administration to date. Race has always been and will continue to be an obstacle in Higher Education (Altbach & Lomotey, 1991). However, it was due to Gregory Swanson's courage to challenge the admissions policies of the University of Virginia that led its desegregation and the subsequent desegregation of Higher Education.

Before the historic 1954 landmark Supreme Court Decision Brown v. the Board of Education that struck down the policy of "separate but equal" and set the legal precedent that racial discrimination in public education violates the United States Constitution, there was Swanson v.

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