Statement About the Consideration of Race in Higher Education Admissions

Written by SAMSA advocacy chairs: Vrinda Gupta and Anurag Modak

The National South Asian Medical Student Association stands in support of the limited consideration of an applicant’s race/ethnicity in higher education admissions, which is to be debated in Students for Fair Admission v. Harvard and Students for Fair Admission v. University of North Carolina. The US Supreme Court will review the constitutionality and the established precedents of these claims in the upcoming cycle. 

We are concerned about the adverse outcomes for underrepresented minorities in higher education admissions if committees will no longer consider race/ethnicity as one of the many factors in an application. Programs that did not consider race in their admission saw a 17% decline in underrepresented students of color enrolling into public medical schools.1 Across all forms of higher education, and especially in medicine, the diversity of a class is an integral component of the quality of education received. Increased diversity among future physicians addresses healthcare disparities and leads to a class that is more able and aware of how to treat diverse patient populations.2,3 

While we support the spirit and sentiment of the aforementioned amicus brief and the continued limited consideration of race/ethnicity in medical school admissions, we also wish to remind our colleagues regarding the holistic evaluation of each candidate and the importance of considering each applicant’s unique experiences and thought processes. Diversity is an integral aspect of well-rounded higher education; however, we must be careful not to use diversity of skin color as a proxy for diversity of thought and experiences. An applicant’s racial/ethnic background may provide some insight into their experiences, but we urge all admissions committees to retain a primary focus on evaluating how those experiences have shaped each candidate.

Race and ethnicity as social concepts are highly fluid and have changed over the course of human history, are actively changing in the modern world, and will continue to change in the future. In fact, the South Asian American community has historically been hurt by changing definitions of race/ethnicity in the United States. In the 1923 Supreme Court case United States v. Bhagat Singh Thind, Thind, a veteran of the U.S. Army during World War I, was denied citizenship by naturalization despite the statutes at the time that allowed Caucasian persons to become U.S. citizens and despite the fact that Indians were considered as Caucasian persons under the prevailing racial notions at the time. In this case, the Supreme Court not only changed the legal definition of “Caucasian,” but also denied Indians the right to become naturalized citizens of the U.S. This decision was subsequently used to strip numerous Indian-Americans of their citizenship. The right for Indians, and more broadly South Asians, to become naturalized U.S. citizens was not restored until 1946 with the passage of the Luce-Celler Act. We believe that United States v. Bhagat Singh Thind serves as a reminder for all Americans to avoid placing too great an importance on fugacious constructs.

It is deeply regrettable that the National SAMSA was not included in the AAMC’s recent amicus brief. We recognize that the National SAMSA is a  young organization; however, we represent one of the fastest growing minority groups in the U.S. Moreover, research on South Asian-American health has been lacking and it is only through recent efforts that this field has started to grow. We believe that it is important for South Asian-Americans to be included in these conversations not only to provide a platform to raise awareness regarding the health issues affecting the South Asian American community, but also to add our experiences, perspectives, and beliefs on a national level to the rich American tapestry. It is therefore our hope that future initiatives by the AAMC and our peer organizations will be more intentional about including the South Asian voice.

Medicine is constantly evolving, and during a pandemic which further exacerbated existing health disparities, we must ensure that our patient population receives the diverse physician workforce that it deserves. 

  1. Garces LM, Mickey-Pabello D. Racial Diversity in the Medical Profession: The Impact of Affirmative Action Bans on Underrepresented Student of Color Matriculation in Medical Schools. J Higher Educ. 2015;86(2):264-294. doi:10.1353/jhe.2015.0009
  2. Marrast LM, Zallman L, Woolhandler S, Bor DH, McCormick D. Minority physicians’ role in the care of underserved patients: diversifying the physician workforce may be key in addressing health disparities. JAMA Intern Med. 2014;174(2):289-291. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2013.12756
  3. Whitla DK, Orfield G, Silen W, Teperow C, Howard C, Reede J. Educational benefits of diversity in medical school: a survey of students. Acad Med. 2003;78(5):460-466. doi:10.1097/00001888-200305000-00007