The Cost of Passive Legislation in Higher Ed


The problems of today are the problems of tomorrow. The same gun that murdered the unarmed Black man, is the same gun that murders the victims of mass shootings. The same jurisdiction that supported the reproductive sterilization of captured migrant women, is the same jurisdiction that overturned Roe v. Wade. To segregate a problem is to dismiss its permeability. Yet, media outlets, public officials, and even our academic systems overlook this distinction when discussing problems in relation to racial disparities. When we discuss racial justice, we should consider more than the demographics subjected to heightened discriminatory actions, but the warning these targeted incidents reveal to us all. Racial disparities do more than harm people of color. They effectively foreshadow events that can affect us all. 

College institutions are an evolving force heeding this warning. Their student body is increasing in the proportions of students impacted by heightened cases of discrimination and solutions to longstanding issues that have threatened their communities. 

When unarmed Black men were murdered on their neighborhood streets, Black and allied students studied harder to defend gun control laws and marched to decry what they couldn’t change from academic settings. When migrant women were held in custody and subjected to forced hysterectomies, the Latinx community formed coalitions to protest the reproductive sterilization of migrant women in custody at US borders. And when innocent Asian Americans were assaulted in streets across the country, Asian American students mobilized discourse and community support for victims of anti-Asian hate crimes and xenophobia. These students have navigated barriers with perseverance, extended grace in times of rejection, and demonstrated will to conquer their rights to safety, equality and a democracy that grows increasingly unstable. 

The racial composition of college enrollees is quite diverse – 87% of Asian, 70% of Hispanic, and 56% of Black high school graduates enrolled in college during 2016. Census data suggests that Hispanic students are the largest growing ethnic group in college settings – they represented 10.3% of the college population in 1995-96 and 19.8% in 2015-16. Similarly, proportions of Black, multi-race and international students increased during this period. While Asian and American Indian student distributions remained relatively constant, distributions of White students experienced the largest decrease from nearly 70% in 1995-96 to 52% in 2015-16. 

This changing demographic reflects an evolving institution where varied backgrounds and experiences can join with purpose. This emerging group of unprecedented student diversity is poised to deliver solutions for tomorrow. They are the survivors and descendants of  

a disadvantaged minority. While the nation grapples with policies to protect their rights from legislation that has jeopardized women’s reproductive rights and public safety from mass shootings, students of color have known the pain of a democracy that has failed them. 

They have responded to social issues that many are only recently affected by. In the wake of these tensions, more investments should go to college institutions whose student body are an adaptive force to percolating problems. 

Legislation like the Biden-Harris administration’s Student Debt Relief Plan is crucial to the continued development of a responsive workforce. However, courts recently issued orders to block the federal student loan forgiveness efforts. This has halted thousands of students from need-based financial assistance. Additionally, discussions at the Supreme Court to dismiss the affirmative action precedent, jeopardize the status of diverse student bodies. Overruling the affirmative action precedent is projected to starkly decrease underrepresented student populations particularly at elite institutions where data and history reveal lower admissions rates of diverse applicants

The quality of student diversity is the quality of depth and innovation. To risk legislation that supports higher education attainment, such as federal student loan forgiveness and affirmative action in academic admissions, is to risk valuable solutions, insights, and innovations to the  problems that increasingly affect us all. Legislators should be reminded that problems are not contained, they are transported. The problems that impose marginalized demographics today, are the same problems that threaten all demographics tomorrow.   


  • Joi Lee

    Joi Lee is a first year MPP student with an interest in residential policy and health entrepreneurship. Before obtaining her MD/PhD, she looks to strengthen her understanding of residential policies and their influence on factors related to comprehensive care in historically Black neighborhoods. She is originally from Orange County, California where she developed her passion for healthcare services in vulnerable patient care. As a fellow and research assistant at The University of California San Francisco, she founded and led initiatives to reduce health disparities nationally and globally, and continues to advocate for policies and structures that endorse leadership by the communities most impacted. Her aim is to strengthen and create national systems of comprehensive care in historical Black neighborhoods that lack resources, personnel and funding for autonomous medical structures.

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