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Feature article and Q&A spotlights new book, The Walls Around Opportunity

Date Published: November 15, 2022

The Fall 2022 issue of the UCLA Ed&IS Magazine features an excellent article and Q&A with Gary Orfield, spotlighting his new book, The Walls Around Opportunity: The Failure of Color Blind Policy for Higher Education.



Give us an overview of the book.

Gary Orfield:

The book is about the concern that higher education is serving to stratify the country rather than to equalize it. Higher education institutions almost all have equity as a basic premise and basic goal. But as an aggregate, they act in ways that privilege the privileged and deny reasonable access to those who are less advantaged, especially to people of color. It’s a system that operates as if everybody has a fair chance. The exception is the use of affirmative action policies, which are now under attack by the Supreme Court of the United States. The book is written with the realization that we may be coming to the end of affirmative action policies, and that we have not reached the goal of racial equity. And it states that one of the things that academics should do is not to worry too much about what seems feasible right now, but to think about what actually needs to be done.


What does the book say about affirmative action?


The Supreme Court will hear two major cases concerning race-based affirmative action from Harvard and the University of North Carolina in October 2022. They are going to hear cases about whether we should dismantle the last remaining educational remnant of the civil rights evolution. Affirmative action policy is all we have left in the battle for racial integration and equity in higher education and it’s been under assault steadily for the last 20 years.

Affirmative action is important because, until we had it, we had almost no significant integration of our elite higher education institutions. Affirmative action did that. It didn’t do it thoroughly, but it made a big difference. It created a critical mass of students of color at elite schools. Without affirmative action, we’re likely to lose a good part of that. That is what has happened in the states that have abolished the policy, including California. Harvard told the courts that they will lose 45% of their students of color if they are forced to not consider race in any way in admissions. Affirmative action is very important, but it’s mostly important for the elite schools in the country. But it is also inadequate there—because so many other aspects of our society, in addition to admissions to college, bear on whether or not people have a fair chance to go to and to survive college.



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