(RNS) — To say I am disappointed with the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Students for Fair Admissions v. Harvard and Students for Fair Admissions v. University of North Carolina to overturn affirmative action is an understatement. While the decision was not surprising, we must acknowledge the fact that there has been a long-lasting campaign against affirmative action, which exists as part of a broader current backlash to historic and present-day racial and gender justice movements.
As the general secretary and CEO of United Women in Faith, a woman and a person of color, I represent the United Methodist Church in all that I am. The church believes people are mandated in the face of inhumane discrimination — whether intended or unintended — to do what we can to redress legitimate grievances and create a society in which the lives of each and all will flourish.
United Women in Faith supports resolution #3373, Affirmative Action, of the United Methodist Church 2016 Book of Resolutions. I believe it to be true in my heart and spirit. We fully commit to the understanding that affirmative action has resulted in concrete gains for people of color, women in higher education, the church and/or society.
We cannot ignore our past. We cannot ignore that we are still living under the constraints and ramifications of our country’s pervasive methods of oppression — including mass incarceration and the school-to-prison pipeline — which disproportionately impact people of color.
Affirmative action was — and still is — a strategy to combat widespread, existing systemic and institutional racism. The sooner we as a nation recognize, own and repent from our history, the sooner we ensure equity, especially for those on the margins of society. However, we aren’t there yet, and that is why this decision is such a blow to the work so many have done for so long.
United Women in Faith believe, in accordance with biblical teachings, that we are mandated to create a society in which everyone can flourish. The Supreme Court actions over the last week on this matter — and on student loan forgiveness and discrimination against LBGTQ+ people — prove we have not progressed toward this mandate. It takes intentionality and accountability.
In 1952, our foremothers adopted the Charter of Racial Policies as our commitment to be intentional and accountable to working for racial justice and inclusion in the church and beyond. The present-day Charter for Racial Justice was adopted by the United Methodist Church in 1980 and continues to guide the church today as resolution #3371 of the United Methodist Church 2016 Book of Resolutions. We have not reached perfection; however, we keep our commitment and intention to live into the Charter.
Likewise, affirmative action was a commitment to intentionality and accountability to ensure equitable access to higher education. It may not have been perfect, but that does not mean that we abolish it, rather we stay committed to do better. Now that racial inclusion is no longer a factor in institutions of higher education, my concern is that the intention and accountability will be lacking on their part to work for inclusion.
I’m inspired by Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Ketanji Brown Jackson’s dissenting opinions on this historical upheaval. Sotomayor said in her written dissent, “The pursuit of racial diversity will go on … Although the court has stripped out almost all uses of race in college admissions, universities can and should continue to use all available tools to meet society’s needs for diversity in education.”
Jackson bravely addressed that society cannot ignore racial inequality in schools and that the court must not prevent “our problem-solving institutions from directly addressing the real import and impact of ‘social racism’ and ‘government-imposed racism.’”
We stand with these women’s conviction and their dissent; we stand with equality. We believe affirmative action is a vital tool in advancing the civil and human rights of women, people of color and people with disabilities while simultaneously strengthening the fabric of our whole society and enriching the lives of all persons. We reject any claims against that.
The court has spoken. It is now up to all of us to be morally strong and do all that we can to support equity, including using our voices. United Women in Faith will continue living into the Charter for Racial Justice.
(Sally Vonner is general secretary and CEO of United Women in Faith. The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of Religion News Service.)