In The News / Lifestyle

Fisher v. University of Texas: Why White Women Shouldn’t Fight Affirmative Action

Today, the Supreme Court ruled for a second time on Abigail Fisher’s case against the University of Texas at Austin over their affirmative action policy, which she claimed was discriminatory and skewed in favor of racial minorities. University of Texas at Austin established their policy in the late ’90s: all high school seniors who ranked in the top 10% of their class would be admitted, and for applicants who weren’t in the top 10%, race could be considered in their admission. Keep in mind, considering race as a factor is very different from creating quotas that require the admission of a certain percentage of racial minorities. Unlike quotas, considering race is perfectly legal according to California v. Bakke (1978), in which the Supreme Court struck down quotas but maintained affirmative action policies such as those at University of Texas at Austin.

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Fisher applied to the University in 2008, and since she wasn’t in the top 10% of her class, she was competing with other students. The University rejected her and that’s when she sued. When the case first appeared before the Supreme Court, the Court affirmed that Fourteenth Amendment permits racial consideration in admissions, but the Court also said that the Lower Courts had failed to review Fisher’s case using strict scrutiny (the highest level of scrutiny afforded by Fourteenth Amendment cases. It’s reserved for race, ethnicity, religion and nationality). And so Fisher’s case was sent back to the Lower Courts to correct their error. Unfortunately, the tenacious Fisher dragged it all the way back up to the Supreme Court again. This time around, the Court gave a clear, definitive answer, which was: no, Fisher was not a victim of racial discrimination. But even with clear case law, white women like Fisher, who claim affirmative action is depriving them of opportunity, are a dime a dozen. So, here are just a few reasons why white women shouldn’t be complaining about affirmative action:

1. White women are the greatest beneficiaries of affirmative action

Despite assumptions, white women are actually the leading beneficiaries of affirmative action. After the federal government applied affirmative action policies, female employment at federal contractors rose by 15.2%. In 1995, it was estimated that 6 million women were employed in fields where they would have been denied without affirmative action. But most of this progress has been achieved by white women. Women of color are still denied job opportunities and promotions on the basis of their skin color.

2. Affirmative action doesn’t award the under-qualified

According to the University of Texas at Austin, Fisher wasn’t qualified for admittance even if she had been a person of color. Her grades weren’t exactly stellar. Furthermore, only 47 students were admitted that had lower test scores and grades than Fisher’s and 42 of those students were white.

3. Considering race as a factor isn’t the same as having a quota

There isn’t a requirement that universities admit a certain number of students of color. That would be a violation of federal law under California v. Bakke. Instead, universities can choose to recognize the institutional biases that oftentimes prevent students of color from excelling. For example, even institutions such as legacy admittance act as a barrier to students of color; legacy admission policies were created to bar immigrants during an era that ensured that students of color were segregated into neglected, sub par secondary schools (which many still are, due to de facto segregation). Even after admittance, college campuses can be hostile environments that hinder the success of students of color when the majority of the student body is white and prone to embarrassing displays of racism. Taking all of that into account, treating every student equally in college admissions doesn’t do the students justice- because those same individuals aren’t treated equally from birth.

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So before my fellow white, female students look to fight affirmative action, perhaps they should first look around on their own college campuses and ask themselves, “who is really benefiting during college admissions, and who is being left behind?”

Photo Credit: 1, 2, 3

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