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Obama-Era Guidelines Encouraging Affirmative Action Rescinded


In theory, the latest news on affirmative action changes nothing. Laws affecting diversity in schools have not changed. What did change is the advice the federal government offers. President Obama's administration gave guidance on how to work for racial diversity within the law, and President Trump's administration just withdrew that guidance. NPR's Rachel Gotbaum reports.

RACHEL GOTBAUM, BYLINE: After two Supreme Court rulings on how race could be used in college admissions, the Obama administration issued guidance to schools on how to diversify their student population. But on Tuesday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that this administration would rescind that guidance. Vanita Gupta ran the Civil Rights Division at the Justice Department under Obama. She says the guidance clarified the law.

VANITA GUPTA: The 2011 and 2016 guidances really just underscored the federal government's commitment to diversity in higher education and said that schools can use race as one factor, among others, in determining how to have a diverse student body.

GOTBAUM: The current administration clearly disagrees and calls the guidance outdated and inconsistent with current law. But civil rights groups say the move actually sets the country back. Derrick Johnson runs the NAACP.

DERRICK JOHNSON: It is true that this administration is seeking to make America great again by turning America back to a 1950s reality.

GOTBAUM: But some groups say they've lost ground because of the Obama-era policy. Yukong Zhao is president of the Asian American Coalition for Education. He says college admissions for Asian-Americans have been capped for many years, and that needs to change.

YUKONG ZHAO: I think it's a new chapter for Asian-American children because, from today, the discrimination - you know, the unlawful discrimination against our children will be significantly reduced.

GOTBAUM: Zhao's group and others have issued complaints with the Department of Justice against several Ivy League schools and say they have been urging the Trump administration to do away with Obama's admissions guidance. In June, plaintiffs in a lawsuit against Harvard say they found patterns of discrimination in the school's admissions process. Despite the Trump administration's reversal on guiding colleges to consider race in admissions, those that support affirmative action say they will continue to work to diversify college campuses.

LILY ESKELSEN GARCIA: We intend to proceed without asking anyone's permission.

GOTBAUM: Lily Eskelsen Garcia is president of the National Education Association.

ESKELSEN GARCIA: We can work directly with higher education. We can work directly even with state legislators. Here's the thing. We're going to do what's right for students no matter what.

GOTBAUM: With Justice Anthony Kennedy about to retire, civil rights groups worry that a more conservative court could do away with affirmative action altogether.

For NPR News, I'm Rachel Gotbaum. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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