Essay by: Ryan H. Nelson
2016 PEPP. L. REV. 65 (2017)
America’s public universities engage students in myriad classroom environments that range from traditional, entirely-in-person classroom environments to entirely-online, virtual classrooms, with every shade of grey in between. These varied learning environments pose a fascinating question with respect to the ways such universities use affirmative action in admissions. In Grutter v. Bollinger, the United States Supreme Court held that “student body diversity is a compelling state interest that can justify the use of race in university admissions.” Indeed, student body diversity remains one of the few “compelling interests” that the Court has held satisfies the constitutional imperative that the “government may treat people differently because of their race only for the most compelling reasons.” Yet, can student body diversity exist when there are no student bodies, as in an online classroom? Is the ability of public university students to know the races of their classmates a necessary element of what makes student body diversity sufficiently compelling to justify race-based admission considerations? What remains of Grutter if students stop seeing the color of their classmates’ skin, and instead see only their computer screens?