By Natasha Schuyler
In 2008, Abigail Fisher sued the University of Texas Austin for rejecting her application. Their reasoning: They wanted to accept less-qualified minority students—not another white female. Five years later, this past June, the Supreme Court voted 7-1 to uphold affirmative action in college admissions, given that schools couldn’t achieve diversity otherwise. Consequently, Fisher’s case bounced back home, its fate left for reexamination in a lower Texas court.
Fisher v. University of Texas questioned the race-conscious admissions process. Being half-black, I’ve always had an investment in affirmative action’s effects. So in the process of applying to graduate schools, I spoke to Judge Jawwaad Rasheed, Support Magistrate of the Oneida County family court system and a former admissions counselor. He explained my ethnicity gave me leverage over white applicants in the admissions process. My LSAT scores could be considerably lower than those listed on a school’s website and I still might be accepted—maybe even with a scholarship.
The problem is, I don’t think of myself as black. I’m biracial and grew up in a completely white neighborhood. I used to believe affirmative action created a barrier in the United States—as long as it existed, the country couldn’t look past skin color. And given the ridiculous standardized test scores many schools require, it’s easy to see how many people of color might think they would not be able to get into college without affirmative action.
But it’s in this way that the stigma associated with affirmative action is created. “People think it’s taking a black person off the street with an eighth grade education, putting them in a college setting, and expecting them to do the work—that is not the case,” Rasheed says. Just because affirmative action may give students of color may an advantage over a white student, doesn’t mean they aren’t qualified to receive a solid college education. Especially when most schools’ required SAT or LSAT averages are kept unrealistically high to justify accepting a low percentage of applicants. And that’s not because the work is so difficult that only 10 percent of the applicants can do it.
As universities skew the numbers to make themselves look far more elite than they actually are, they create the stigma that affirmative action is a cop out for anyone it applies to. Is affirmative action unfair? Perhaps. But it’s not because institutions are lowering expectations for minorities, but because they don’t offer the opportunity of higher education to those who meet the realistic admission scores. Admission should be based on more than if an applicant fits into a certain ethnic checkbox. By broadening the parameters of affirmative action, students who deserve to be in college would be—leveling the playing field for all of us.