On August 28, 2023, Workforce Matters hosted a briefing for workforce grantmakers on the implications of the Supreme Court’s decisions in SFFA v. Harvard and SFFA v. UNC.

Our conversation with Art Coleman, Managing Partner at EducationCounsel; Dr. Alex Camerdelle, Vice President at Atlanta Wealth Building Initiative; and Sally Chen, Education Equity Policy Manager at Chinese for Affirmative Action focused on the historical context and original purpose of affirmative action, the specifics of this Supreme Court ruling, and implications for workforce development grantmakers. 

Sally Chen grounded the conversation in the historical context of affirmative action, reminding us that the policy of affirmative action was originally intended in part to answer the question of: “How do you make good on the promise of equal opportunity for all people and particularly people who have faced historical exclusion and face ongoing systemic barriers?” Within that context, she reminded us that affirmative action wasn’t about diversity per se but about a “righting of wrongs”, a recognition of the need to repair the harm and injustice inflicted upon groups of people who were historically excluded, marginalized, and oppressed. 

Art Coleman discussed the Court’s ruling and change in the law regarding the consideration of an applicant’s racial status; and in that context, he discussed the details of the Supreme Court’s ruling to underscore the fact that many in the media in over-stating the impact and scope of the decision.  He offered the following clarifications:

  1. Institutions can still adhere to their missions, including the pursuit of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI). This decision does not provide support for the broad attacks on DEI happening around the country. 
  2. Post-secondary institutions may still consider the specific ways that race impacts applicants’ lives and experiences as part of the admissions process, and applicants have the freedom to discuss and to highlight how they have overcome racial discrimination, or how their “heritage or culture motivated [them] to assume a leadership role or attain a particular goal” that will uniquely allow them to contribute to the university. 
  3. The court’s decision did not specifically address employment or topics such as scholarships, financial aid, outreach, recruitment and bridge programs, or pathways–although some implications of the decision should be considered in some of those contexts.

With a lens on workforce development and the labor market, Alex Camardelle reminded the audience that despite the retrenchment and national shifts away from investments in racial equity, race still matters and race-conscious policies and practices are still needed in workforce development as in other areas. He underscored that the traditional race-neutral, individualistic orientation of workforce development policies dismisses racism in the labor market and in the workplace and weakens our ability to advance equity through workforce development. 

The panelists made several recommendations for workforce grantmakers in this moment, including: 

  1. Diversify and strengthen educational and employment pipelines to better reach workers and learners of color 
  • Intentionally focus on broad-based inclusive recruitment and outreach activities that expand opportunities to workers and learners of color;
  • Continue to leverage and invest in key levers such as procurement, internal staff, retention and mentorship; and most importantly
  • Document the practices that organizations are using and their effectiveness in increasing diversity, equity, and inclusion.
  1. Identify and report instances of racial discrimination in the workplace
  • Work collaboratively with field partners to identify and report instances of discrimination to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) on behalf of programs and participants who are less resourced to do so;
  • Provide funding and guidance to field partners to help them publicly track reports of discrimination; and
  • Provide funding and resources to increase staff capacity to help clients who experience racial discrimination in the workplace.
  1. Continue to remain focused on and support efforts that address needed systemic and structural changes
  • Support advocacy, organizing, movement building, and narrative change efforts connected to advancing racial equity;
  • Examine existing education and workforce policies and processes that may be at odds with racial equity goals and work to change them; and
  • In designing new policies and practices, look for ways to increase access to education and employment for individuals who face barriers to opportunity.

This list of recommended actions is evidence that despite the recent rulings, there are still many things that funders can and should do to advance racial equity. We encourage you to continue having conversations with your colleagues and grantees about what is possible. 
View the recording in our Video Library. Access the Padlet with resources.