According to the Office for Civil Rights, Diverse learning environments help students sharpen their critical thinking and analytical skills, prepare them to succeed in an increasingly diverse world, break down stereotypes and reduce bias, and enable schools to fulfill their role in opening doors for students of all backgrounds.

The Office for Civil Rights (OCR) has issued guidance to explain how schools can pursue racial diversity consistent with Title VI and Supreme Court decisions in this area. School districts have flexibility, for example, to avoid racial isolation through decisions about siting schools and academic programs, drawing school attendance zones, aligning grades between schools, and setting enrollment/transfer policies.

In December 2011, the Departments of Justice and Education released two documents, one for school districts and one for colleges and universities. These guidance documents detailed the flexibility that the Supreme Court has provided to educational institutions to promote diversity and, in the case of elementary and secondary schools, reduce racial isolation among students within the confines of the law. The guidance clarifies that educators are permitted to consider the race of students in constructing plans to promote diversity in K-12 education in an effort to reduce racial isolation.

On June 24, 2013, the Supreme Court issued its decision in Fisher v. University of Texas. The Court followed long-standing precedent recognizing that colleges and universities have a compelling interest in ensuring student body diversity, and can take account of an individual applicant’s race as one of several factors in their admissions program. The Supreme Court determined that the lower court had incorrectly deferred to the judgment of the University in assessing whether the University’s admissions program was tailored to attain a diverse student body. As a result, the case was “remanded” or returned to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals for further proceedings. The ruling recognized that colleges and universities have a compelling interest in the educational benefits of diversity, and can lawfully pursue that interest in their admissions programs.

The Supreme Court also clarified that courts reviewing admission policies must understand that consideration of a student’s race in admissions policy is needed to achieve true diversity. The Court’s decision neither upheld nor rejected the constitutionality of the University’s admissions program. Instead, the Court remanded the case to the Fifth Circuit to correctly evaluate the University’s admissions program under the well-established “strict scrutiny” standard, which requires the lower court to make the determination that the University’s program is narrowly tailored to achieve the compelling interest in diversity. In doing so, the lower court can take account of the University’s experience and expertise, but it may not defer to the University’s decision.

Like the Court’s decision in Fisher v. University of Texas, the Departments’ Postsecondary Guidance follows the legal standards previously stated in Grutter v. Bollinger, Gratz v. Bollinger, and Regents of Univ. of Cal. v. Bakke. Those standards remain in place, the Departments continue to rely on the Postsecondary Guidance in investigating and resolving complaints of discrimination against institutions of higher education.

Over the years this policy and guidance has stirred controversy. Does this policy ensure diversity at Universities and institutions of Higher learning? Is it just another form of racial selection? Many have questioned its true purpose.

I can see where this could help to level the playing field by allowing more students from diverse backgrounds an equal opportunity at a college education.

For more information regarding this policy or to review the specifics of the guidance see the link provided below.

The Postsecondary Guidance is available at:

http://www.ed.gov/ocr/docs/guidance-pse-201111.html