At the current Supreme Court hearing on the constitutionality of including race as a factor for admission at Harvard University and the University of North Carolina, Justice Clarence Thomas challenged the validity of the concept of diversity during oral arguments. He asked North Carolina’s solicitor general, Ryan Park, to define diversity and to give an example of its benefit to education.

Thomas asked Ryan Park, the North Carolina solicitor general, to offer a specific definition of diversity in the context of UNC and provide a clear idea of what the educational benefits of diversity at the school would be. (National Review)

The Supreme Court justice explained that the term seems to lack clear meaning. He went on to question its effectiveness as a standard for education.

“I’ve heard the word diversity quite a few times and I don’t have a clue what it means,” said Thomas. “It seems to mean everything for everyone.” (National Review)

Citing his own past experience as a student, Justice Thomas stated that he himself did not attend a racially diverse school but that he had benefitted from the education he received.

“I didn’t go to racially diverse schools but there were educational benefits,” replied Thomas, before again pushing for Park to list specific educational benefits. (National Review)

Park offered a definition of diversity taken from the Supreme Court’s own past words. He also explained that race is only one factor within the scope of diversity as a standard of admissions and education at UNC. 

“First, we define diversity the way this court has, in its court’s precedents, which means a broadly diverse set of criteria that extends to all different backgrounds and perspectives and not solely limited to race,” said Park, before adding that there are “many different diversity factors that are considered as a greater factor in our admissions process than race.” (National Review)

The case – in which the Supreme Court is being asked to consider reversing a past decision reached in the 2003 ruling in Grutter v. Bollinger – brings up questions about the relevance of affirmative action in today’s American society. The 2003 ruling had granted universities the right to include race as part of its admissions criteria.  

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