For nearly 60 years, institutions of higher education have been able to give limited preference to people of color and women with admissions.
The practice, advocates say, has afforded marginalized people a fair chance to attend colleges and universities that may have otherwise overlooked them. It has also been a tool to prevent discrimination at institutions, many of which historically only admitted White students.
Now the fate of affirmative action is in the hands of the conservative majority Supreme Court. On Monday, justices will hear arguments for two cases at Harvard and the University of North Carolina.
The challenges are being spearheaded by conservative activist Edward Blum who filed the lawsuits in 2014.
The Harvard challenge cites Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which prohibits schools receiving federal funds from discriminating based on race. The UNC lawsuit also claims Title VI grounds, as well as a violation of the 14th Amendment’s guarantee of equal protection of the law, which covers state institutions.
The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights is among the groups that will be defending the constitutionality of affirmative action before the Supreme Court.
Genevieve Bonadies Torres, associate director for the Educational Opportunities Project for the committee, said affirmative action has led to college campuses becoming more diverse. In return, Black and brown students are able to achieve “profound economic mobility” and uplift their communities, Torres said.
“What we know from both experience and research is that when colleges stop considering race, they have seen steep declines in the number of Black and Hispanic students who gain access,” Torres said. “Students of color are less likely to apply once they stop considering race because they see them as less inclusive and welcoming.”
Torres said in 2015 students at both Harvard and UNC got involved in the cases by submitting letters and testifying about their experience on each campus and the importance of diversity.
CNN spoke with three of the college graduates involved about why they believe affirmative action should be upheld.
Read their stories here.