University Diversity Policies in Jeopardy — Andrea Hance

Recently, the Supreme Court has been taking on cases that could rock civil rights and turn back the clock. Soon, we will hear the ruling on Fisher v University of Texas. This case challenges the affirmative action programs of UT. Fisher, a white woman was not accepted into the university and claims that part of the reason she didn’t make the cut was because the schools policies favor less qualified students based on the color of their skin.

UT’s affirmative action policy includes admitting all Texas students in the top 10% of their graduating class no matter what school they attended and beyond this they allow race/ethnicity to be a plus in admission decisions. Therefore, race is only one factor of many that is considered in the application process.

Affirmative action often strikes up heated conversations and controversy every time it is mentioned. Many revert to calling it “reverse discrimination,” however this is sometimes because it is misunderstood. Affirmative action is NOT a quota system, but it is a way to give employers and universities motive to put in a “good faith effort” to foster a diverse workplace/campus.

I’m personally saddened that this case was brought by a woman. Despite the high number of women in higher education, women still earn less than men and face many challenges in the workforce. Affirmative action programs help increase professional development that leads to more women being promoted, hired and respected in their careers.

The main conversation that has come out of this court case is whether programs that target socioeconomic status would be more effective in diversifying campuses with higher quality students. Beyond the irony that there is a level of racism embedded in this suggestion, it also assumes we live in a culture that is actually color blind. However, a lot of evidence proves otherwise.

While researching this blog, I came across a debate published in the New York Times about this case. Patricia J. Williams’ piece speaks to the fact that although many think economics will solve racism,  it is not that simple.

“The latest attestation to its miraculous salutary power is the assertion that African-Americans who would but barricade themselves within a wall of middle-classness will be structurally exempted from racial resentments. According to this logic, when comfortably situated black people move into all-white areas, the neighbors will be delighted… the neighborhood watch will not follow them about and demand to know their business.”

Now, it is the unfortunate truth that minorities (in particular women of color) tend to face more economic hardship in this country due to historical and social reasons. However, programs that focus only on SES don’t go far enough in promoting racial diversity and ultimately equality.

It is my hope that the Supreme Court rules in favor of the university.  We are not ready to strike down affirmative action programs in this country. I wish we were, but we still have a lot of history to overcome and cultural norms to challenge before these programs will be truly unnecessary.

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