Summary of the Argument


At their founding in the colonial period, American colleges and universities raised seed money for their endowments by investing in slave ships; constructed their campuses through slave labor; recruited their presidents, trustees, professors, and students among slave traders and slave owners; and, used slaves as campus laborers, staff and servants. As the wealth, power, and prestige of these institutions grew alongside that of the new republic, their researchers and scientists gave intellectual cover for chattel slavery, and later Jim Crow. Through books, papers, and speeches, the eminent faculty and graduates of our best colleges and universities offered what they claimed was irrefutable proof of the inferiority of the Black race and concomitant superiority of the white race. And, in the span of three centuries, institutions such as Yale, Harvard, Princeton, the University of Pennsylvania, the University of Virginia, Brown, Dartmouth, among others, became places where the student body quite literally reified the idea of white supremacy, superiority, and privilege. In the same span of time, under slavery whites, by law, denied Blacks all access to education. Later, under “separate, but equal,” Black children were educated just enough to prepare them to be sharecroppers in the fields. Today, racial disparities in early childhood and K-12 education, coupled with racially discriminatory school discipline reinforce the racial foundations of our educational system, and make it all but inevitable that the demographics of our elite institutions remain overwhelmingly white.

All of this is a matter of historical record; and, none of it can be seriously disputed. And yet, in not one of the roughly thirteen cases this Court has decided where the central issue presumably concerned equal opportunities for Blacks in higher education has a majority of the Court discussed the intersection between higher education and white supremacy, superiority, and privilege. That discussion matters and is long overdue because the nation's continuing struggle with providing fair and equal access for Blacks in higher education is not simply due to the lack of college preparedness on the part of Blacks; nor is the continuing struggle due to what is often quaintly referred to as the Black-White achievement gap, but it is due to a strand of white privilege that is interwoven into the very DNA of our higher education system and cannot be erased by merely pronouncing that “the way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discrimination of the basis of race.” Parents Involved in Cmty. Schs. v. Seattle Sch. Dist. No. 1, 551 U.S. 701, 748 (2007).