Once again, the U.S. Supreme Court must consider the constitutionality of affirmative action. The court is currently considering the case of Abigail Fisher, a recent graduate of Louisiana State University who was denied admission at the University of Texas for what she sees as unconstitutional reasons.
Fisher claims that she was a victim of reverse discrimination, being rejected because she is white while minority students who may have been less academically worthy were accepted instead thanks to the use of affirmative action policies.
Hers is one in a long line of affirmative action cases considered by the Court over the years. These include the landmark Regents of the University of California v. Bakke, which deemed that setting aside places for minority students in university admissions making what are called “racial quotas” unconstitutional, but allowed for race to be considered as one factor among many.
Another is Grutter v. Bollinger, which ruled that race could be used as a factor in admissions to the University of Michigan’s law school because creating a diverse community is of “compelling interest” to the institution.
Fisher challenges the Grutter decision. If the court sides with Fisher, universities will no longer be able to implement affirmative action policies in their admissions processes. This would ultimately be detrimental to the success of the admissions process in a variety of ways; first and foremost, it would disenfranchise a whole class of people who deserve the same success given to more privileged candidates.
Due to historical discrimination and injustice against various minority groups notably the intended beneficiaries of affirmative action, African Americans, a large selection of viable candidates for admission into colleges and universities are stuck in substandard high schools without access to many of the same resources and advantages as students from privileged backgrounds because they cannot afford it. Therefore, they have to work a lot harder to get decent grades, and consequently, many are not able to work up to their full potential.
Eliminating affirmative action policies would prevent admissions officers from considering the race of their applicants as a factor in their decision. This could negatively affect the chances of certain oppressed minority groups whose financial and social circumstances may have kept them from attaining a high GPA or taking part in resume-padding extra-curricular activities.
The Grutter decision brings up another positive contribution that comes from implementing affirmative action: both in the workplace – and in this case, the classroom – it is important to create a diverse community wherein people from multiple racial and socio-economic backgrounds can socialize and learn from each other. Affirmative action policies help facilitate such relationships.
In order to broaden the worldviews and expand the minds of students who will one day be the world’s leaders, it is imperative that they are surrounded with unfamiliar customs and ways of life and are able to learn about cultures different from their own. A number of small liberal arts colleges like St. Olaf take this into account and try to admit students from as many varied social circumstances as possible in order to ensure the existence of this diversity.
Should Fisher overturn Grutter, the progress made thanks to Grutter’s majority decision will be lost, and those from lower economic classes will once again have a difficult time finding ways to educate their children and thereby overcome the blows dealt to them by their economic hardships and a long history of racial discrimination and injustice.
The point of affirmative action is to prevent discrimination and racism from infringing on the rights of American citizens. It would be yet another injustice if the Court sides with Fisher and prevents universities from considering a student’s racial background – and, consequently, their socio-economic and educational background – during the admissions process.
Nina Hagen ’15 firstname.lastname@example.org is from St. Paul, Minn. Her major is currently undecided.