I cried the day I gained acceptance to Wesleyan University in 2018. My tears signified relief, joy and excitement. I viewed my acceptance into this elite private institution as a dooropening, a new opportunity for young Black students like me.
As a Sierra Leonean American, I had felt constrained by my public education in the United States. I had to fight against low expectations and conditions that devalued my potential, including “accidentally” being placed into English as a Second Language in elementary school, even though English is my first language. I then had to fight for a spot in upper-level classes when I got into high school.
I was fortunate to become a part of TeenSHARP, a college access program for marginalized students that exposed me to schools like Wesleyan and taught me how to advocate for myself while paving the way for others.
Little did I know that my acceptance to Wesleyan was opening a portal to an academic and corporate world in which I would see even fewer people who looked like me. While many college students experience their first semester as an exhilarating time filled with joining student groups, I spent a lot of my time grappling with what it meant to be the only Black woman in predominantly white classes. With the end of affirmative action, more students will experience what I felt: being the only or one of a few Black students.
I remember exploring Wesleyan for the first time. The halls were filled with pictures of alumni, mostly white men, that sent me on a trip down the institution’s memory lane where, as a Black woman, I didn’t exist.
No matter how much I told myself that I belonged, the insidious history of Wesleyan, from its pictures to its architecture to its racial makeup, was a haunting reminder that while I may have gained entry into this world, Black people generally do not.
I would have loved to go to a historically Black college or university, but the lack of funding for HBCUs means they can’t be as generous with financial aid,leaving me, and many other Black students, with the options of taking on unsustainable debt or trying to get in somewhere else.
My acceptance to Wesleyan came at a time when race could still be considered in college admissions, before the Supreme Court struck down affirmative action, effectively ending an avenue of hope for Black and Latino groups.
Related: Will the Rodriguez family’s college dreams survive the end of affirmative action?
However, the gap between the numbers of Black and white college graduates was growing even before the court ruled on affirmative action.
Affirmative action was a meager attempt at leveling the playing field. The Supreme Court’s decision to get rid of it will only continue the caste system in which people with marginalized identities are barred from reaching self-determination because we simply can’t get into spaces that will allow us to thrive.
Ending affirmative action is not only an attack on the benefits of diversity in education, but a direct way to end the mobility of students like me by closing the door to opportunities that were already hard to access.
Historically, race has been a social determinant. Race determined which jobs you could get and which schools you could attend. To ignore race in college admissions will not erase the race problem that plagues our nation. It will only exasperate it.
As long as America refuses to look in the mirror and face the social barriers that necessitated the creation of affirmative action in the first place, brilliant students of color will be overlooked in the admissions process.
Related: OPINION: Legacy admissions are unnecessary, raise moral concerns and exclude deserving students
As I build my career, I often find myself in situations similar to those I experienced as an undergraduate: One of just a handful ofBlack people, or even the only one, in professional settings.
The Supreme Court’s decision has now set a precedent such that initiatives like the Fearless Fund, a nonprofit that provides funding for Black women entrepreneurs, are under attack. And many companies have halted diversity, equity and inclusion programs due to fear of being sued.
Now is the time not to be complacent but to educate ourselves, stay informed and mobilize. The court’s decision is a reminder that the rights and opportunities we have fought for are not a given, and only stay firm when we are.
Alphina Kamara is a development associate at The World Justice Project and a previous Fulbright fellow.
This story about the end of affirmative action was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education. Sign up for Hechinger’s newsletter.