The issue of race in college admissions is tied to the University of Texas at Austin more so than almost any other school in the country. The policy of separate but equal began to fall after a black student sued for admission to our law school in Sweatt v. Painter. The suggestion that our black students haven’t worked as hard as white students to get into our University is offensive and logically flawed because our own legal history suggests the opposite.
We wrote about why affirmative action is necessary, even if imperfect, in our June 27 editorial in response to Fisher v. University of Texas. This University offers unparalleled resources compared to other schools in our state. To not take into account the value of a diverse student body and the barriers to success that students of color face would be a mistake. In making their decision, the Supreme Court of the United States recognized that race-blind admissions policies hurt diversity.
Yet despite UT’s policies, black students still make up only 3.9 percent of the student body, and the majority of them did not benefit from affirmative action.
So when our University’s branch of Young Conservatives of Texas holds a protest against our admissions policies styled as a bake sale, as they have several times before, it makes sense for our campus’s students to be more than upset. While affirmative action is an imperfect policy, scrapping it entirely makes little sense.
Even more upsetting is that the group chose to be intellectually dishonest in their arguments. In their press release following the event, they cherry-picked previous Supreme Court cases that struck down certain applications of affirmative action but failed to mention the Fisher decision in an attempt to falsely portray affirmative action as unconstitutional as a whole. One would not cite Dred Scott v. Sandford or Plessy v. Ferguson. Their reluctance to acknowledge decisions they disagree with shows that they are not interested in having a productive discussion.
And the policies that underpin this aside, the protest itself was certainly distasteful. Assigning monetary values to minority students is dehumanizing, and it delegitimizes their admission and contributions to the University.
But we would be remiss if we did not acknowledge that this political protest is their constitutional right. The First Amendment gives strong protections to speech and stronger protections to political speech. The act of protesting affirmative action itself through the conceit of a debate sale is undoubtedly protected by the constitution, and while students at the protest may have said things that students could rightfully label hate speech, the Supreme Court has consistently found offensive speech that will not lead to imminent violence is constitutional. The University would be wrong to take action against anyone in this case.
Although the protest could understandably be taken in an offensive manner, it was intended to express an opinion against affirmative action, not necessarily the individuals that policy intends to help. Opposition to affirmative action often stems from ignorance rather than racism, although these two ideas are greatly interconnected. But by no means does this mean we condone it: the protest was poorly executed and failed to initiate any meaningful, nonpolarizing dialogue. The Young Conservatives has held these bakes sales before, and the students organizing the protest should reasonably know what the reaction will be. For them to repeat such a bake sale under the guise of furthering the dialogue on affirmative action is disingenuous at best.
However, considering affirmative action is a campus-centric issue, students should engage in dialogue regarding it. The University is charged with developing the state’s and nation’s policymakers. Students should be educated about the policies that affect universities and understand why they are in place, and affirmative action is no exception.
Just like we oppose campus carry for the dampening effects it can have on debate on our campus, we oppose action against the Young Conservatives for protesting policy. Our University needs a free and open exchange of ideas among a diverse student body to best achieve its mission. While we oppose the Young Conservative’s actions, our mutual right to have that discussion is far more important.