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Embracing Transition: It's Time to Let the Affirmative Action Era Go

Fabio Gurgel, a respected master of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, once shared an insightful analogy about the first important moment for any student: the transition from white to blue belt. He observed that while "white belts" yearn to get to the next level, once the transition occurs, they realize their new status as the least experienced among "blue belts." Their previous knowledge is insufficient. Gurgel emphasized that "transitions pull us back," making things more challenging rather than easier.

On June 29th, the Supreme Court ruled Students for Fair Admissions v. President and Fellows of Harvard College, restricting the use of race as a factor in college admission programs. The decision overturns some precedents, including Gratz v. Bollinger (2003), which allowed considering race to enhance diversity in higher education.

The decision ends an era of Affirmative Action initiatives, sparking debates nationwide. According to Hannah Demissie for ABC News, a survey indicated that about 52% of Americans support the Supreme Court's decision, 32% disapprove and 16% remain uncertain. The nation is divided and the future of diversity in higher education remains indeterminate.

While legal battles loom in the years ahead, discussions are already heating up. The ban on affirmative action policies comes amidst many other debates in education, like the forgiveness of student loans, the adaptation of curriculum, the influence of AI, etc. The controversy goes beyond the educational field, revealing how the U.S. grapples with the way American society should look.

Transition is pulling back.

Discussing race and representation is always complicated because it involves pondering the historical consequences of former arrangements and deliberating about a net of socioeconomic roles. It's about deciding who should be given access, why and how. It is a big deal for any country, particularly for those who have gone through slavery.

The civil rights movement in the 1960s led to the implementation of affirmative action initiatives amidst intense activism. African Americans, women and other minority groups would benefit from programs established to combat racism, provide access to education/workforce and ensure representation.

However, it is also true that such policies were never supported or approved by the entire population. Affirmative Action initiatives have been considered a polemic measure and resisted by a considerable part of the population.

After all, such programs could never dismantle the underlying forces (structural or not) that perpetuate racial inequality and injustice. While affirmative action served as an important start, demonstrating that making more inclusive and equitable policies is possible, it was never intended to be a once-and-for-all, permanent solution. Even in Gratz v. Bollinger (2003), the U.S. Supreme Court emphasized the need for universities and colleges to "continually reassess" the necessity of race-conscious admissions.

Affirmative action has played a crucial role but belongs to an initial phase, a given moment of history. Addressing the deep-rooted limitations of racial equality requires more innovative, engaging, participative and inclusive solutions. It's time to involve the entire community and explore common ground. Perhaps this approach may sound less appealing or less effective at first, yet its results are promising; and, most importantly, they can endure occasional shifts in politics or courts' rulings.

Like a student leaving the white belt behind, it's time to transition to the next phase.

Diversity, as a catalyst for varied perspectives, allows problem-solving with deeper understanding and potential innovation. It makes societies stronger instead of divided. Yet it’s important to recognize that complex problems involve conflicts of interests and opinions, so addressing them involves a change of approach.

Transitioning from the Affirmative Action Era to a new stage requires advancing more interactions and connecting people/organizations with different views (an ecosystem that includes not only educational institutions but also think tanks, NGOs, investors and governmental agencies, among others). To tackle such a complex challenge, a multitude of contributions is needed.

Seeking common ground, avoiding uncivilized debates and asking frank questions is part of the blue belt phase. Open forums, facilitating ongoing conversations and a data-driven approach can keep misconceptions and distortions afar. Gathering first, debating later. Exploring alternatives. Listening carefully to scientific studies and confronting their results. Caring about international experiences. This change of approach will open space for new possibilities we often cannot see in our polarized political landscape.

America's transition of belts may feel scary, even chaotic, but it's also stimulating. We have a historic chance: to build a solution that lasts. The more we embrace it, the better the fight.

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the individual author.

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