Ivy Coach’s Brian Taylor featured in ‘Supreme Court affirmative action ruling prompts college diversity essay ‘loophole’’
The Supreme Court may have brought an end to affirmative action in college admissions, but universities have found a so-called loophole by openly encouraging applicants to discuss their race in essays.
The landmark ruling prohibited colleges from considering an applicant’s race in admissions decisions, but Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in the June opinion that college admissions officers were not prohibited from “considering an applicant’s discussion of how race affected his or her life, be it through discrimination, inspiration, or otherwise.”
In a statement following the court’s ruling, Harvard University, one of the two defendants in the case alongside the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, quoted the chief justice’s words and said the college “will certainly comply with the Court’s decision.” Likewise, UNC said the university would “comply with the Court’s ruling that an applicant’s lived racial experience cannot be credited as ‘race for race’s sake,’ but instead under some circumstances may illuminate an individual’s character and contributions.”
Brian Taylor, a managing partner at the college prep company Ivy Coach, told the Washington Examiner that not much has changed in the wake of the court’s ruling, even as some colleges have tweaked their admissions essay prompts to solicit responses that more directly discuss an applicant’s race.
“The more things change, the more they stay the same,” Taylor said. “Many [colleges] are taking advantage of Chief Justice Roberts loophole that he penned in his majority opinion, [and] they’re asking more community-based questions. They’re asking more questions about your background or your culture or your experiences.”
Indeed, Taylor noted, essay prompts have been tweaked for the 2023-24 cycle to encourage applicants to discuss their race and ethnic background. The nation’s most elite schools, he said, have been at the forefront of it, with most of them changing their admissions prompts. Those that didn’t change their prompts, he added, already had questions that solicited responses about a student’s background.
“The ones that didn’t change it, many of them already had questions that were using the words ‘community,’ ‘background,’ ‘identity,’ ‘experience,’” he said. “They’re saying without saying it.”
For Adam Kissel, a visiting fellow in education policy at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, the use of essay questions to invite students to discuss their race still allows admissions officers to consider an applicant’s race when making admissions decisions.
“What we’ve seen so far are new or amended essay questions that make it easier for an institution to infer … an applicant’s race,” Kissel told the Washington Examiner. “So what that suggests is that admissions officers know what their job is and can infer race and use it if they want, so long as they don’t create a paper trail.”
The language used by the essay prompts varies substantially but with the general goal of encouraging applicants to discuss their personal background, including their race.
“Feel free to tell us any ways in which you’re different and how that has affected you,” Duke University’s prompt reads.
At Dartmouth College, applicants are told to “Let your life speak. Describe the environment in which you were raised and the impact it has had.”
Harvard likewise shied away from explicitly encouraging students to discuss their race but primed its essay prompt by saying, “Harvard has long recognized the importance of enrolling a diverse student body.” The prompt goes on to ask applicants to describe how their “life experiences” will allow them to contribute to the college.
Taylor noted that Johns Hopkins University made one of the most blatant attempts to encourage students to discuss their race, noting that the prompt even uses the word, something that most other schools avoided.
“Tell us about an aspect of your identity (e.g. race, gender, sexuality, religion, community, etc.) or a life experience that has shaped you as an individual and how that influenced what you’d like to pursue in college at Hopkins?” the college’s admissions essay prompt reads.
“They’re directly asking about a student’s race or gender or sexuality,” Taylor said of the school. “They’re explicitly stating it, and a lot of these schools are not doing so.”
Johns Hopkins University did not respond to a request for comment. A spokesperson for UNC directed the Washington Examiner to university Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz’s statement following the ruling.
The questions, Taylor said, apply to all applicants, regardless of their race, noting, “You don’t need to be an underrepresented minority to answer these questions.”
“As far as underrepresented minority applicants, they should certainly make [their race] clear, not by saying ‘I am black,’ but they should make it clear in their storytelling … and not leave it open to interpretation so that admissions officers can go to bat for them because they’re trying to help underrepresented minority applicants with this loophole,” he added.