WASHINGTON, DC, June 29, 2023 -- In response to the Supreme Court’s decision in Students for Fair Admissions, Inc. v. President and Fellows of Harvard College ending race-based affirmative action, Rabbi Jonah Dov Pesner, Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, issued the following statement on behalf of the Union for Reform Judaism, Central Conference of American Rabbis, and wider Reform Movement:
“We are dismayed by the Supreme Court’s ruling on affirmative action. By striking down Harvard and UNC-Chapel Hill’s affirmative action policies, the Court has overturned years of precedent affirming that race may be considered as one of many factors in college admissions. This decision will have real and devastating impacts on racial diversity in higher education.
Due to the enduring legacy of institutionalized slavery and ongoing systemic racial injustice, the United States’ K-12 education system remains largely segregated and inequitable for Students of Color. As we work to promote a thriving, multiracial democracy, it is essential that all students have equal opportunity to pursue their dreams. For decades, affirmative action policies have helped give Students of Color a fair shot at higher education and infuse campuses with a range of perspectives and lived experiences. Efforts to increase racial diversity in higher education also promote socioeconomic mobility and foster a diverse workforce. In an increasingly pluralistic and interconnected world, it is essential that we identify and celebrate the gifts and talents of all individuals. Indeed, racial diversity in education is a national imperative, and the Supreme Court’s decision will make it harder to achieve this goal.
As Reform Jews committed to racial justice, we are compelled to advance racial equity in all aspects of society, including in education, and to support programs that seek to mitigate past and ongoing injustices. Our support for affirmative action is also guided by Jewish text and tradition, which are clear about our obligation to pursue racial justice. A Jewish tradition suggests that God created the first human from dust from the four corners and colors of the earth - red, white, black, and green (see Pirkei De Rabbi Eliezer 11:5-6 and Yalkut Shimoni 13:2). While the original texts understood the reasons for these colors differently, the texts link these colors to the four corners of the earth and to the idea that every human being is equally at home anywhere in the world. In today’s context, we read these texts as inspiration for our affirmation of the diversity of humankind. As a multiracial Jewish community, we know diversity is our strength and recognize that ignoring race will only perpetuate racial injustice.
Despite the Supreme Court’s ruling, we remain committed to advancing racial equity, diversity, and inclusion in higher education and beyond. We will continue to work with our multiracial and multifaith partners to promote educational equity, and we encourage colleges and universities to use every available pathway to advance racial diversity on campus. Working together, we can still achieve the true promise of our multiracial democracy.”
The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism is the Washington office of the Union for Reform Judaism, whose 850 congregations across North America encompass 1.8 million Reform Jews, and the Central Conference of American Rabbis, whose membership includes more than 2,000 Reform rabbis. Visit RAC.org for more. The Religious Action Center’s racial justice work is made possible in part by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.