Racial Diversity on UNC’s Campus Is Critical for Breaking Down Stereotypes and Increasing Cross-Racial Understanding

RALEIGH (November 18, 2020) – In 2014, Students for Fair Admissions attacked the diversity initiatives at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill when it filed a lawsuit seeking to eradicate a race-conscious admissions policy that viewed race in a holistic manner, and ensured underrepresented students of color were not overlooked when applying to our nation’s colleges and universities. Since Nov. 9, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, the North Carolina Justice Center, and Relman Colfax PLLC have been in trial defending the race-conscious admissions policy.

UNC has presented several admissions directors and officials. The national Lawyers’ Committee and co-counsel for Student Intervenors have presented two student witnesses so far and will present six more before the trial concludes on Thursday, November 19.

Cecilia Polanco, a Latinx/Salvadorean-American who graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill in 2016, testified powerfully about her ethnicity, and how it is inseparable from her experiences and identity. Polanco explained that she would not have been able to fully convey her talents if race and ethnicity were eliminated from the application process. Kenneth Ward, an African-American graduate of UNC, testified how the atmosphere in UNC’s classrooms and on campus remained hostile where there were fewer Black students, and he felt isolated.

“The powerful testimony presented by our student witnesses makes clear that diversity on campus is essential to breaking down racial barriers and preparing our next generation of leaders,” said David Hinojosa, director of the Educational Opportunities Project at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “UNC’s policy follows Supreme-Court precedent, and we need to continue to expand on the progress we’ve made when it comes to diversity and inclusivity in the classroom. Our witnesses re-affirmed that race is an integral part of their identity and must be treated as such during UNC’s holistic admissions process.”

“The testimony provided by the student intervenors during the trial provided a powerful illustration for the court of the importance of keeping race and ethnicity as relevant factors among many in UNC’s holistic application review process,” said Jack Holtzman, Senior Staff Attorney at the NC Justice Center, one of the co-counsel representing student intervenors. “Based on all the evidence presented at trial this week, I’m confident that Judge Biggs will affirm the constitutionality of UNC’s admissions policy and practice and dismiss SFFA’s claims.”

The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, together with its co-counsel in this case, will be presenting four additional witnesses on Wednesday, Nov. 18, and two on Thursday, Nov. 19. All of the students identify as Black and Latinx, groups who remain underrepresented and marginalized on UNC’s campus. They will testify about how diversity on campus helped influence their perspectives and life experiences.

Following the trial:

  • The parties will each have 30 days to submit their proposed findings of fact and conclusions of law;
  • The court will issue its ruling, which could take up to a year; and
  • The losing party could consider an appeal to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals.

FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT Ian Weiner, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, idweiner@lawyerscommittee.org, c. (443) 694-1028; Julia Hawes, NC Justice Center, julia@ncjustice.org