I’m sure everyone here has heard of the demon known as affirmative action, and its henchman, the dreaded quota. For those who haven’t, affirmative action’s mission is to damn the Great White River and let all those brown folks take over universities and work places. The quota is the number of said brown folk needed to accomplish the mission. Ooh, scary! Ok, so I’m being more than a little bitter and sarcastic here, but I guarantee you know at least one person who thinks that way, whether you know it or not. As a Southerner, I tend to run into such unpleasantries all the time. Shit ruins your day. What’s worse is that I’m about to start hearing a lot more about it, and so are you, because affirmative action is going back to the Supreme Court.
Affirmative action is, according to Wikipedia, policies that take factors including “race, color, religion, gender, sexual orientation or national origin” into consideration in order to benefit an underrepresented group, usually justified as countering the effects of a history of discrimination.” For conservatives, this means that workplaces and schools are keeping track of all minorities they hire or admit, and specifically looking to hit a magic number. Supposedly, this sort of quota-filling keeps deserving White men out of their rightful places or something. In reality, the Supreme Court forbade the use of quotas or point systems in a comparatively recent 2003 case. Conservatives still howl about how the quotas are happening, and how the mass liberal conspiracy is hiding the tally sheets. However, it is permissible for universities to take race into account when admitting students, which brings us to the case at hand.
The case boils down to a White girl who decided to sue The University of Texas at Austin because they didn’t let her in, but minority students with test scores and grades lower than hers were admitted. Apparently this pissed off the student, Abigail Fisher, and another woman who dropped out of the suit, so much that they’ve brought it all the way to the Supreme Court. Despite Fisher being a graduating senior at another university, she’s determined to bring UT Austin down a notch. Though between the 2003 ruling and Fisher’s 2007 application, minority students increased by only about 5%, she is convinced of the bias. In reality, UT Austin, along with most other universities, only takes race into account when admitting students rather than using it as a basis for admission. The lawsuit seeks to ban affirmative action altogether. If that happens, universities will no longer be able to even consider race. It becomes nothing in terms of admission.
UT Austin also adheres to a very specific rule governing admissions the top 10% rule. This rule states that if one is in the top 10% of one’s graduating class, one will be unconditionally and automatically admitted to the university. Living in Texas, I know that this rule has been the source of some heated arguments, because while it does give children at lower-performing high schools the opportunity to enter a top university, it also admits students who can’t cut it at a university. Basically, Sallie from Rural Texas High is in the top 10% of her class of 75, where there are few AP classes, the teachers are ineffective, and everyone does worksheets all day. Sara is from Big City High, is also in the top 10% of her class of 500, and her classes are taught college-style, with multiple papers, etc. Fundamentally, the rule ensures that students have opportunity, but does nothing to help the students who sink. Seventy-five percent of Texas resident spots must go to those admitted by the 10% rule. I find it necessary to bring this up because it puts the case into perspective. Abigail Fisher was, to put it plainly, vying for a spot in that 25% at one of the nation’s top public schools. I honestly think she’s attacking the wrong rule here. She didn’t fail to get in because she’s White, just like the another non-top 10% Texas student didn’t get in because they are Black or Latin@ or Native.
I know many Persephoneers have applied to a university recently or are planning to apply, so many reading this will be familiar with the little blurb stating that universities consider applicants from all races, religions, etc., and that they take race into consideration when admitting students. Though I have significant Native American blood (no, it’s not from my great-great-great-great grandmother on my mother’s side, I think), I never thought to tick that box along with my usual when applying for undergrad. It just didn’t occur to me, since my family didn’t live on a reservation or have significant ties to our people. However, I did check it when applying for grad schools. Did it help? I’ll never know. Maybe one of the universities that called to congratulate me on my acceptance was calling because the director was thrilled at the prospect of a genuine Indian in the program. After all, the percentage of Native Americans with a college degree is about 9%, compared to about 20% overall. I think most of us like to think that it wasn’t our race, but our achievements that got us where we are. Looking at the numbers, racial disadvantage is pretty damned clear, due to everything from institutionalized racism to economics to social policy. So I ask you, dear reader, what do you think? Should we keep things as they are? Bring on the quotas? Or should we outlaw it altogether?