U.S. Supreme Court

I won’t be in class on Wednesday. Instead, I will be in Washington, D.C. at the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the historic arguments in Fisher v. University of Texas.

This case will decide whether UT will be able to continue on the path to becoming a place where students of all races and backgrounds are truly welcomed into our university community.

When the Court makes its decision, it should let UT keep the race-conscious admissions policy it has now. The policy is working. In fact, UT should do more, not less, to ensure that all students get the benefit of meeting people of different races, cultures, ideas and viewpoints.

Ensuring that UT provides open pathways to leadership and opportunity is especially critical for African-American students. For much of the University’s history, we have been excluded by law or marginalized in fact.

Right now, about 75 percent of each freshman class is admitted under the Top 10 Percent Law, which only considers high school class rank. For the remainder, the admissions office considers not only grades and test scores, but also more than a dozen factors in an individualized review of applicants’ background and experiences. These factors include personal essays, leadership qualities, extracurricular activities, community service, family responsibilities, socioeconomic status, whether the applicant comes from a single-parent home, work experience during high school, whether languages other than English are spoken at home and race.

I was guaranteed admission to UT because I was valedictorian of my high school class in Houston. But I think it is critical that there be a pathway into UT for students who bring unique talents and experiences to the table, even if they missed the cutoff for Top 10 Percent admissions.

I love UT, and I’m glad I’m here, but I have had both good and not so good experiences as one of what is still a relatively small number of black students on campus.

As a freshman, I often found myself sitting in my room wondering whether I belonged here. Very few people whom I encountered in my residence hall, in my classes or anywhere on campus looked like me. I remember calling my mother in excitement when I saw five other African-American students on campus one day during the spring semester of my first year after taking a biology test. How many white UT students ever find themselves in a similar position?

When I go to my classes, I am often either the only African-American girl or the only African-American student. Sometimes, even when the class is larger than 200 students, I look around and see maybe only one other black student. Professors and other students often expect me to speak for my race or give “the black perspective” as though there was only one. While African-Americans have similarities, our personal paths to UT may be very different. My perspective growing up in Houston could be very different from that of someone from a small town who is the first in her family to go to college.

Sometimes, contributing what I know about black culture and traditions feels comfortable. For example, I was in a small English class where I was one of three black students. During a series of discussions about “The Color Purple,” the renowned novel by Alice Walker, my classmates all said that they appreciated my input because they had never looked at things from my perspective. Growing up, we often listened to jazz, and I was able to connect the role of jazz in the novel to the important contributions that African-Americans made in pioneering that genre of music, which is not just entertainment but a critical tool of self-expression and one of the first true American art forms. I also shared my insights based on conversations with my grandparents about their experiences with Jim Crow segregation.

UT has taken strides to promote a more inclusive campus climate. But several recent incidents have served as stark reminders that we still have a long way to go. In the past few weeks, African-Americans and other students of color say they were hit with bleach-filled water balloons thrown from apartment balconies in West Campus. And some sororities and fraternities have recently held themed parties in which members and their guests – who were mostly white – dressed up in clothing associated with offensive racial stereotypes.

These incidents emphasize that UT still needs to do more to pursue diversity. On a campus that is robustly diverse, these incidents are less likely to occur and, if they do, less likely to be tolerated.

I won’t get a chance to talk to the Supreme Court justices, but if anyone in Washington, D.C. asks what I think, I’ll tell them: “Don’t Mess with Texas.” Now is not the time to tie the hands of University officials, students, faculty and others who are working together to create a campus environment that truly embraces all of us.

UT students of all races are standing together to make our collective voice heard.  We need our University to continue to be able to use the necessary tools to admit and support students who will strengthen all of our experiences with diversity.  Only then will we fulfill our school’s motto: “What Starts Here Changes the World.”

Sanders is a government and African and African Diaspora Studies junior.  She was the 2011-12 Political Action Chair of the Black Student Alliance, which filed an amicus brief in Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, along with the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc.

My mother emigrated from Mexico at the age of 25. When I was growing up, she put a huge emphasis on my grades, sometimes to the detriment of my other activities. My mother’s emphasis, and my resulting grades, made me particularly well suited for admission to UT through the Top 10 Percent law. Had I not been near the top of my class, it would have been a challenge to get in through the University’s holistic review admissions process, which evaluates a candidate using indices of academic and personal achievements such as test scores, essays, extracurricular activities, family situation and race. In 2011, Latinos accounted for 29 percent of those admitted under the Top Ten Percent rule, but holistic review only admits 14 percent. This implies that it would have been harder for me to get in through holistic review, a race-conscious process with the stated goal of increasing diversity, than my white peers.

Fisher v. University of Texas, a case that challenges UT’s consideration of race in admissions, will be heard at the U.S. Supreme Court next week. Fisher alleges that she was disadvantaged as a white applicant in 2008, when she was denied admission into UT. The case has been garnering attention because some argue that it could finally dismantle the institution of affirmative action, first put into place by President John F. Kennedy in 1961 to counter the effects of racial discrimination.

I look at the statistics on the racial composition of applicants admitted through holistic review and wonder how a policy that disproportionately favors whites and Asians gets to be called affirmative action. In an interview with The Daily Texan, University President William Powers Jr.  admits that African Americans and Hispanics are underrepresented at UT. During the “Fisher v. Texas and You: A Conversation with Civil Rights Leaders” panel discussion held this week and sponsored by We Support UT and the Multicultural Engagment Center WHO, a mostly minority audience was asked “How many of you think there isn’t enough diversity on campus?” A clear majority of attendees raised their hands.

One of the arguments made by Fisher using UT admission data is that “race” does not play a frequent enough role in determining holistic decisions to justify the continuing use of it as a consideration. U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit Judge Emilio Garza, quoted in Fisher’s brief, found that UT’s race-conscious policy is “completely ineffectual in accomplishing its claimed compelling interest.” Instead, according to Fisher supporters, the policy has the look of institutional racism.

On the other hand, the brief filed on behalf of the University by Patricia Ohlendorf, vice president for legal affairs, dismisses Fisher’s argument about modest weighting of race as “counter-intuitive.” Karolina Lyznik, an attorney for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, who, like me, recalls her immigrant parents locking her in her room to study, said at Tuesday’s panel that even though there is a disparity between the compositions of applicants admitted through the Top 10 Percent rule and holistic review, there is still a considerable number of minority students being admitted both ways. Lyznik added that holistic review does a great job of selecting a diverse group of people from within each race.

In the modern era, diversity is a complex topic that can’t be addressed with four coarsely defined racial categories, African American, Hispanic, White Non-Hispanic and Asian. Diversity includes a very wide range of considerations that are not limited to race, ethnicity, family circumstances, socio-economic class and geography. The Top 10 Percent rule is good at attracting students to represent much of this diversity because much of the state remains segregated.

Sam Robles, a social work and Hispanic studies junior, who helped organize Tuesday’s panel, recognizes that holistic review as un-ideal. She said, “It’s frustrating seeing these admission numbers and how they speak to issues of racial prejudice on campus.”

Robles wants to educate students about the Fisher case because students are in a position to go back to their communities and encourage underprivileged students to apply to UT. Any lack of diversity we see is not a result of a biased admission process, but a faulty and unequal K-12 public education system. There is a real chance that UT’s holistic review will be found unconstitutional; affirmative action has a limited shelf life and our conservative U.S. Supreme Court judges may find it has expired. And as an underrepresented minority, I relied on the Top 10 Percent law as my way into UT. Had I had lower grades, it would have been unlikely that I would be admitted through holistic review. I believe the fight for diversity on this campus is not over, but it’s hard to support UT’s race-conscious admissions policy when it increases diversity within privileged groups, while not helping those that have historically and to this day need it.

Nill is an ecology, evolution and behavior senior from San Antonio.

On Thursday, the U.S. Supreme Court prohibited Texas from enforcing the new sonogram law that passed the Legislature last spring while the law is under the appeals process, according to The Texas Tribune. If upheld, the law would require women seeking an abortion to view a sonogram and listen to the heartbeat of the fetus at least 24 hours before the procedure. Attorney General Greg Abbott is appealing the U.S. district court’s August decision to strike down provisions of the law.

The Supreme Court’s ruling is another step toward ensuring the state does not infringe on women’s rights. The law is the state’s attempt to impose its moral convictions on Texans and would unnecessarily subject women who have already faced a difficult decision to more agony and trauma.

Moreover, this law is inconsistent with the state’s professed adherence to minimal government intrusion in private life.

Because of the uncertainty surrounding the constitutionality of the law, it is appropriate that the state not enforce it.

Printed on September 30, 2011 as: Sonogram law awaits appeal