Not Separate, But Still Not Equal
Consequences of the outcome of Fisher v. The University of Texas
In 1953, when Thurgood Marshall was arguing the case of Brown vs. the Board of Education, no one knew that he would later go on to be the first African American to be appointed to the highest court in the country. His appointment was groundbreaking, and he was able to get there on his own merit. Yet, he recognized that what he was able to achieve was not the norm and he was a supporter of affirmative action policies. In his view, African Americans were at a disadvantage, as he wrote in 1978, “Meaningful equality [for blacks] remains a distant dream.” Almost 35 years later, and there are many ways that we are still trying to achieve equality.
Shortly after President Barack Obama was elected, a term was thrown around to discuss the evolution of race in America. The term was “post-racial,” and it was used to justify how a black man and his family could end up in the White House. But it didn’t take long for the dreams of a “post-racial” America to be shattered. Race has continued to play a prominent role in politics and other facets of life. Just this year, we’ve seen Wells Fargo settle a discrimination lawsuit on the basis of race. Congressional Representatives have been called the “N” word and we’ve seen and heard other racially charged attacks against the president and first lady. Racial and other biases still exist in this country, and anyone denying that is out of touch with reality.
Next Wednesday, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in the case of Fisher v. The University of Texas. This is a pivotal case because the courts are reexamining whether equal opportunity or affirmative action policies violate the equal protection clause of the 14th amendment. Despite Supreme Court Justice Lewis F. Powell’s opinion rejecting quotas, but allowing race to play a role in college admissions in the 1978 decision in Regents of the University of California v. Bakke, and the high court’s affirmation of that opinion in Grutter v. Bollinger and Gratz v. Bollinger in 2003, equal opportunity policies are now being reexamined.
The case of Fisher v. UT will determine if Abigail Fisher was discriminated against in 2008 when she applied for admission at the University of Texas Austin. Under the University’s admissions policy, all students in the top 10 percent of their high school class are admitted to the school. Fisher fell short of that and had to be considered with a pool of students who are measured using a variety of factors, including talents, leadership potential, family circumstance and race. She is asking the court to find that the school operated outside of the 2003 Grutter v. Bollinger decision or that the policy of considering race at all as a basis for admission be overturned in its entirety. If the Supreme Court finds in favor of Fisher, it could end affirmative action and equal opportunity policies in higher education admissions.
Because I know that many inequalities still exist within our society, I know that policies that take race into account are still vitally important to creating or maintaining diversity on college campuses. Research has found that diversity increases our nation’s competitiveness. We need policies that enrich our communities and give students alternative viewpoints to consider when learning. Diversity adds to the richness of our experience and that is why National Action Network and our partners will rally in front of Supreme Court on Wednesday at 11 am. We must stand together and let the court know that we don’t see these types of policies as a crutch, but rather, we see them as a balancing mechanism. Biases still exist and sometimes they are acted upon in ways that negatively impact minorities. We are not living in a post racial society and until we achieve a world where people can look at one another without bias and without seeing the differences, we must stand together and fight for equality. I hope that you will join us in our fight.