The DOJ’s new look at affirmative action in college admissions reminded me of this post. So I dusted off this gem from 2012, and added some new thoughts on the subject.
In October, the Supreme Court of the United States is expected to rule on Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, the latest case to challenge the use of race as a factor in college admissions. Despite the fact that the court ruled in favor of it in 2003 (Grutter v. Bollinger), it is being heard again. And, since the court is more conservative than it was nine years ago, there is a good chance that it will be struck down. And, if affirmative action is ruled unconstitutional in the case of higher education, it goes without question that it will be ruled unconstitutional in the host of other places where it is applied. It’ll have the same social domino effect that Title IX or Brown v. Board of Education had.Obviously, I think this is bad.
Some background: In order to ensure diversity at the University of Texas Austin (the flagship school in the UT system), they enacted a policy where the top 10% of students at any high school in the state would be accepted. This fills up roughly 80% of the incoming freshmen class. The other 20% of applicants are evaluated holistically, meaning their grades, life circumstances, SES, race, etc. are considered in the admissions decision. Abigail Fisher (the plaintiff), whose evaluation was part of this process in 2008, was denied admission. She believes that it was based on race (she is White), and is now suing the university for discrimination. [See here, here, and here for more detail that isn’t legalese.]
Now, I’m not writing to make the case for diversity in higher education and beyond. Those arguments are out there and awesome and obvious. No, I want think through the question of ownership in college admissions. How can someone (in this case, Fisher) so believe that they are entitled to a seat at a prestigious university that they sue the school… then take it all the way to the SCOTUS? Or, as the kids say: Where they do that at??
Well, duh, America. In a country built on (and by) perpetuating the myths of the inferiority of people of color, it isn’t a surprise that a White person may feel that their rejection from the school of their choice has to do with the university’s use of race as a factor for admission. (All of the plaintiffs in such cases – Fisher, Grutter, and Bakke – have been White.) I mean, people of color can’t possibly be qualified to get in or anything. We can’t possibly have worked hard, aced tests, and did every extra-curricular activity possible to gain admission to the school that you expected to get into. Nope. It’s only because we are of color… Yeah, miss me with that.
The idea that one can ‘lose their seat’ to another individual at an institution that neither of them attends is ridiculous to me. It implies that the individual believes that the application to college is just a formality, that the seat is their seat by virtue of who they are in comparison to others. The only people who think that are people who don’t understand what it is like to have to earn a chance. Their sense of entitlement is strong enough to sue (sue!) for something that was never in their ownership. To sue (sue!) an institution on the claim that the person who was admitted instead of them was somehow under-qualified when they do not even know that person!
[omg.wtf.gtfoh.take a seat.] Having researched race and privilege in college and beyond, I understand on an academic level where this mindset comes from. Having lived race and privilege in higher education, I understand how it feels to be doubted. I got the looks at Columbia from people who felt that I took their friends’ ‘spots’ in the class. I still get asked my SAT and GRE scores from people who can’t believe that I could possibly have earned my way into (or gotten degrees from) Columbia, UPenn, or NYU. I get it. I’m not supposed to be academically successful because of what I look like or where I come from. I’m not supposed to be competitive. I’m not supposed to have a shot. And if I don’t think that’s fair, well guess what? Life’s not fair. (Ever notice how the people who tend to say ‘life’s not fair are the ones to whom life has been rather fair? Interesting.)
I really hope the SCOTUS doesn’t overlook precedence and strike down the previous rulings about the consideration of race in college admissions. We as a society aren’t at a place where race isn’t a determining factor in life outcomes. Poor, so-called “failing” schools tend to be over-populated with brown children for structural reasons that are out of their control. To not take such external, nonacademic factors into consideration in admissions is to blame a kid for being born. Education has been proven to be the best vehicle to breaking the cycle of poverty for families and communities. Until the K-12 system is equitable enough to make merit-based decisions, higher education has be the leveling factor. Hopefully the SCOTUS will see that…. Or they could just make it illegal to have such egregious educational inequalities at the K-12 level so that this becomes a moot point. But we know that will never happen.
I can’t believe it has been 5 years since I wrote that post. Five whole years. The Supreme Court ruled on this last year, yet here we go again. But this time, instead of it being some butt-hurt white woman, it’s the Department of Justice that is investigating discrimination against White people in college admissions.
It felt weird to type out “discrimination against White people” because that’s not how racism works, but I know that some don’t know this. There are people who use the phrase “reverse racism” without an ounce of irony, and truly believe that this is a thing. I have done zero research on this, but I think it is safe to assume that those people are the same ones who voted for this administration… and are why we’re in this current situation.
This ‘diversion of resources’ is just a bone to the folks who think this way. It’s a bone to the folks who think that the root of their failure is the success of people of color. It’s not the fact that they received a poor education, or that they were woefully unprepared for this employment in this economy, or that they just weren’t qualified for whatever opportunity they were shooting for… Nah. It’s affirmative action. Government policies that were designed to address generations of discrimination (and that disproportionately advantages White women) are the reason for your lack of success. Yup. That makes sense… </sarcasm>
But even though this call for an investigation doesn’t make real sense, it will have real consequences. It will feed into the mindset that the presence of melanin means an absence of intelligence, and lend credence to the idea that any success achieved by an individual who doesn’t look like them is suspicious. Not that that fire needs any fuel, but here we are.
I’ve been dealing with this mindset for my entire adult life, and it doesn’t get any easier. The questioning of my credentials and expertise by people who have decidedly fewer of both never gets any easier. The viewing of my credentials and expertise as being less than simply because I’m a Black woman never gets any easier. I know my worth, but it’s still hard to deal with. This mindset has cost me interviews, jobs, and clients. It’s real. And with the DOJ providing cover and credibility to this utter nonsense, it will never go away.