Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Quick Thoughts on Fisher v. UT

The Supreme Court is set to hear arguments in Fisher v. UT.

I'm anxious.

Abigail Fisher claims she was rejected by UT because she was white. I think cases like this get at the heart of who is believed deserving or meritorious or entitled (a word usually used viciously against poor people of color, but Abigail Fisher certainly felt she was "entitled" to something).

Why do I say that? Because it doesn't particularly matter to plaintiffs in cases like this about any other source of perceived "unfair advantage." As Tim Wise noted some time ago,
[F]or every student of color who received even the slightest consideration from an affirmative action program in college, there are two whites who failed to meet normal qualification requirements at the same school, but who got in anyway because of parental influence, alumni status or because other favors were done.

But we don't hear about the unfairness of parental influence or legacy policies.

And, as noted in a brief from UT:
[Fisher] also was denied admission to the summer program, which offered provisional admission to some applicants who were denied admission to the fall class, subject to completing certain academic requirements over the summer. ... Although one African-American and four Hispanic applicants with lower combined AI/PAI scores than petitioner’s were offered admission to the 16 summer program, so were 42 Caucasian applicants with combined AI/PAI scores identical to or lower than petitioner’s. In addition, 168 African-American and Hispanic applicants in this pool who had combined AI/PAI scores identical to or higher than petitioner’s were denied admission to the summer program.

I doubt if Amy Fisher is worried about those 42 Caucasian applicants who got in because we are more likely to think they somehow deserved it. And what of the 168 students of color with scores identical or higher to hers who were denied admission? How is that explained?

No, it’s only an issue when a person of color is perceived to have gained something that rightfully should have gone to a white person. It is rooted in the belief that somewhere out there, there has to be a white person who is better qualified or more deserving or who “merits” more.

It’s the Jesse Helms “Hands” ad writ large.

Like Deborah Archer, I believe that,
Altough America has made substantial progress in race relations, there remains a systemic racial hierarchy that produces and perpetuates racial disparities in educational outcomes. Race-conscious admissions programs, like the one used by UT Austin, are designed to counter this systemic racism and create a vital pipeline to educational and professional opportunities for minority students. The proven success of these programs in increasing equal opportunity serves as compelling evidence of their value and counsels in favor of continuing them.

And, as a professor and a woman of color, it’s why I am anxious.

1 comment:

Lindsay said...

Yes, you're right. I've only started to realize it this year, but that *is* the assumption behind white people's opposition to affirmative action, isn't it? That the white person always deserves it more.

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