October 10, 2012

Your Turn: Affirmative Action


Abigail Fisher: My name is Abigail Fisher. I dreamt of going to UT ever since the second grade.

Scott: Abigail Fisher released this video after her dreams of attending the University of Texas were dashed. She says it’s because she’s white. Fisher applied to the University of Texas in 2008 and says with her grades, courses and extracurricular activities, she was sure she would get in.

At UT, students are admitted one of two ways: First, 75% of the student body gets in automatically if they graduate from a Texas high school in the top ten percent of their class. The remaining 25% are hand picked, after being evaluated on things like grades, activities, family responsibilities and race.

Abigail: There were people in my class with lower grades who weren’t in all the activities I was in who were being accepted to UT, and the only other difference between us was the color of our skin.

Scott: Fisher sued the university, and now the case is being considered by the nation’s highest court. The justices will decide if colleges may consider race when admitting students.

Abigail: I was taught from the time I was a little girl that any kind of discrimination was wrong. And for an institution of higher learning to act this way makes no sense to me. What kind of example does this set for others?

Bill Powers: In our holistic review, we take ethnicity as one factor, among several, into account so that we can have a diverse class, which is important to us for a whole variety of reasons.

Scott: The university filed legal documents with the court saying race is a minor factor when selecting students. But the school contends Fisher’s scores were not high enough, so that is why she was not part of the competitive 2008 freshman class.

Bill: It is important that we have enough diversity so that in individual classrooms there is a diversity of ethnicity, of geographic background, of income background. The classroom is a better educational place if it is a diverse classroom.

Scott: Diversity is the reason affirmative action programs were created in the first place, to level the playing field for those who have been discriminated against in the past.

Civil Right Supporter: Every citizen should have an opportunity to receive education in his own state.

Scott: For decades, minority communities struggled for equal rights. Segregation was finally outlawed, but the country was still very much split along color lines.

Civil Rights Opposer: You have got to keep the blacks and whites separate!

Scott: And many communities were still recovering from years of discrimination.

In 1965, President Lyndon Johnson issued an executive order enforcing affirmative action for the first time.

President Johnson: You do not take a person who for years has been hobbled by chains, bring him up to the starting line of a race and then say, ‘you are free to compete with all the others.’

Scott: The order required government agencies and public universities to take affirmative action to hire and advance minorities. This right was later extended to include women.

Affirmative action has already been tested several times in the Supreme Court. The justices have ruled against universities using strict quotas or point systems. But they have consistently decided that universities can consider race when looking at prospective students. Seven states have banned the use of race by public universities, and Oklahoma voters will decide this fall whether to join them. But some argue affirmative action is the best way to guarantee opportunities to minorities.

Joshua Tang: The fact that most people who fall under the poverty line are people of color. The fact that most children who do not receive a decent education are children of color. So when considering those things, race and ethnicity definitely need to be part of the conversation.

Scott: If the Supreme Court sides with Fisher, some experts warn there could soon be a decrease in diversity on college campuses.

Bill: We are educating the leaders of the country, so having a leadership that is going to be a diverse leadership will be important for the state of Texas and the country.

Scott: Those who oppose affirmative action argue that any form of discrimination, regardless of the intention, is still wrong.

Abigail: A good start to stopping discrimination would be getting rid of the boxes on applications. Those don’t tell the admissions people what type of student you are or how involved you are. All they do is put you into a box. Get rid of the box.

Scott: Scott Evans, Channel One News.


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