NEW YORK—The United States Supreme Court's momentous decision yesterday to strike down affirmative action and consideration of race in college admissions had been predicted by many law experts for some time. But the reality of the decision and its implications, as interpreted by states, communities, education institutions as well as some health care and businesses, are in process now and likely to be for some time. The impact of the Court's 6-3 decision on existing and ongoing diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) initiatives is prompting groups in the optometry arena to also reassess how they can correctly pursue the goals of boosting diversity and equity goals in the profession moving forward.

The High Court issued rulings on two related cases addressing race-conscious admissions practices, Students for Fair Admissions (“SFFA”) v. President and Fellow of Harvard and Students for Fair Admissions v. University of North Carolina (“UNC”). The decision found that both Harvard’s and UNC’s affirmative action admissions programs violate the Equal Protection Clause, which may effectively end most, if not all, affirmative action programs in college and university admissions processes.

Contacted at VMAIL's presstime, many groups had not yet shaped an immediate formal reaction as they were still examining the language and the situation. But several did respond to queries for at least initial statements and comments.

The Association of Schools and Colleges of Optometry (ASCO) did state to VMAIL late yesterday, “The Supreme Court’s decision today will certainly impact the way many colleges and universities will be able to conduct admissions functions going forward,” said ASCO president Dr. Mark Colip. “While the decision is disappointing to many, it was anticipated, in fact ASCO member institutions have been working diligently to put plans in place to identify and implement alternative approaches that address the need for diversity within optometry’s student body. On April 21, ASCO’s Diversity and Cultural Competency Committee and Student Affairs and Admissions Group held a Town Hall meeting for faculty and administrators to help them start to prepare for this ruling. We will continue this work, as well as our important public awareness program called Optometry Gives Me Life as we continue to make positive strides in this area.” Additional information about ASCO’s Town Hall on the Supreme Court ruling can be found here.

SUNY College of Optometry stated, "With this ruling, it may be more challenging for colleges and universities to enroll similar numbers of underrepresented students and may ultimately impact the benefits that stem from diverse learning environments. The opinion does state that nothing will prohibit universities and colleges from considering an applicant’s discussion of their life experiences and how race affected the applicant’s life, so long as that discussion is concretely tied to a quality of character or unique ability that the particular applicant can contribute to the university. 
"SUNY College of Optometry affirms its commitment to diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging through building a student body and optometric workforce that represents the diverse backgrounds of our community. This is imperative in the delivery of and access to health care in today’s society. We will work within new guidelines as they emerge, while continuing to advance the principles of diversity, belonging, and inclusion within our campus and across the optometric workforce."

Chancellor John B. King, Jr. and the SUNY system's board of trustees issued their own statement. "Today, the U.S. Supreme Court attempted to pull our nation backwards in the journey toward equity and civil rights with an egregious ruling that will have serious impacts on students and families seeking the American dream of opportunity through higher education. Race-conscious admissions policies have enriched our institutions and our nation. Yet despite the existence of race-conscious admissions policies, Black and Latino students, along with other groups, are still underrepresented across institutions of higher education as students, faculty members and administrators. Today’s decision threatens to undermine what progress has been made, by throwing up roadblocks and barriers when what’s needed are better paths and bridges. At SUNY, our resolve to provide opportunity for all has never been stronger. The commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion will continue to be a factor in every goal we pursue, every program we create, every policy we promulgate, and every decision we make."

Just on June 28 this week, SUNY Optometry's Office of Continuing Education hosted a special panel with noted leaders and experts from several optometric institutions and groups, who shared perspectives about what might happen if the Court decided as it did on Thursday. That discussion, which pointed the way to future approaches to tackling the future of diversity and racial equity initiatives in optometry, can be viewed in its entirety here. SUNY Optometry also presented a new video showing updates from those participants, from such groups as the American Optometric Association, the National Optometric Association, the Academy of Optometry and other experts on their current approaches to DEI. That compilation video can now be viewed here.

A statement to VMAIL from Howard Purcell, OD, FAAO, president of the New England College of Optometry, read, "The New England College of Optometry (NECO) recognizes the recent Supreme Court ruling prohibiting the consideration of race in college admissions, and we are actively evaluating its implications. As an institution, we are steadfast in adhering to the legal framework established by the courts. However, it is important to emphasize that NECO remains unwavering in our commitment to addressing the disparities in optometry access for individuals from marginalized communities, including Black, Latino, Indigenous, and other under-represented populations. Our goal is to effectively meet the diverse needs of all patients. NECO deeply values the transformative power of diversity and inclusivity within our optometry school, and we will continue to foster an environment that encourages students from all backgrounds to pursue a career in optometry. By doing so, we can collectively enhance the profession and better serve the broader community."

Adam Ramsey, OD, co-founder of Black EyeCare Perspective, told VMAIL at presstime, "At Black Eyecare Perspective, we are saddened by the court's decision but not dismayed or distracted from our mission. We are even more energized by the need and necessity of organizations like ours to continue the good fight. We will continue our mission to make diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging a priority in eyecare in whatever form it takes in the future. We are calling on partners that would like to help with this mission to reach out to Black Eyecare Perspective and see where our assignments align. We are now playing chess; they have made a move we shall counter."