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After SFFA v. Harvard, What’s Next for Affirmative Action at Penn? We Asked Two White Guys and the Daughter of a Shanghainese Billionaire


On June 29th, 2023, the Supreme Court of the United States decided in Students for Fair Admissions v. Harvard that race-based affirmative action violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, effectively ending affirmative action in the U.S. as we know it. It’s been over two months since the decision, and as the Class of 2028 prepares their college applications in an uncertain, post-SFFA landscape, Under the Button sat down with three Penn students from all walks of (upper-class) life and asked:

“What’s next for affirmative action at Penn?”

William Harrington (C ‘25)

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Majors: Political Science, Economics

Hometown: Greenwich, Connecticut

Fun fact: Loves going on walks with his dog Snowy outside his family’s summer residence in Cape Cod.

For what it’s worth, I think that overturning race-based affirmative action has allowed us to have meaningful conversations on what representation really means and how we should prioritize it. Look at the disparity in wealth and how it’s represented at Penn – the most affluent 1% of all Americans comprise almost a third of the nation’s wealth but only make up 19% of the spots at this school. We can and must do better, and the Supreme Court's decision allows us to proclaim: Your identity is no longer defined by a tick in a box – it is defined by the numbers in your parents’ tax return.

Of course, there’s so much more to consider than just diversity of race. What about diversity of thought? Penn is an overwhelmingly liberal institution; why don’t we place more emphasis on admitting economic conservatives and soft xenophobes? By being deliberate with the diversity we choose to prioritize, we can build a campus dialogue that is shaped by lived experiences and not just skin color.

Alice Guo (C ‘25)

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Majors: Philosophy, English

Hometown: Shanghai, China (but went to a small high school in Andover, Massachusetts)

Fun fact: There’s a small wing in Van Pelt named after her father on the fourth floor.

We must level the playing field so that we may rectify historical inequities. Every day, I look at my roommate of color, who was also my roommate in high school, and I feel immense gratitude for race-based affirmative action for bringing her here alongside me who had to get here through merit. To claim that we live in a race-blind society is shortsighted — I acknowledge the role that privilege has played in bringing me here and the role that it will continue to play as I inherit my father’s real estate business. 

But do the same opportunities that I had exist for other students of color who go to prep schools like mine? I don't think so. In the United States, anyone can donate a small wing to a library and get into a university. It's not the ability to donate alone which matters – what matters is the systemic adversity your family faced as they made that donation. As a Penn Dems member in name – I can’t legally vote in the United States – I hope the University of Pennsylvania keeps these considerations in mind as we continue to build a more earnest, diverse community of scholars.

John Patronus (C, W ‘24)

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Concentrations/Majors: Finance, Classical Studies

Hometown: Oxford, England

Fun fact: John initially agreed to speak with me but refused when we came to meet in person, claiming that I “sounded whiter” on the phone.