Lawyers tout admissions policy, diversity on campus

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NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund representative Damon Hewitt explains why affirmative action and diversity are necessary in society during a talk in Burdine Auditorium Tuesday evening.

Photo Credit: Marisa Vasquez | Daily Texan Staff

Lawyers representing organizations that promote equal rights for minority groups said if the U.S. Supreme Court rules against UT’s admission policy, it could have a negative impact on diversity in higher education nationwide.

On Oct. 10 the court will hear oral arguments in Fisher v. University of Texas, a case filed against UT by two white female students who claim their admission was denied on racial grounds. UT states the University admits 25 percent of students through a holistic admissions process that examines academic and personal achievements and special circumstances, which include ethnicity and socioeconomic status, among other factors. The University accepts 75 percent of incoming students based on high school rank.

A panel discussion Tuesday evening, “Fisher v. Texas and You: A Conversation with Civil Rights Leaders,” featured lawyers from several organizations that filed briefs supporting the University’s admissions policy.

Thomas Mariadason, staff attorney for the Educational Equity and Youth Rights Project at the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, said that the policy should not be ruled unconstitutional and if the court does so, it would repeal similar policies across the nation.

“If you can do it in Texas, you can do it in New York, you can do it anywhere else,” Mariadason said.

Mariadason said including ethnicity gives context to applicants’ achievements listed on their application, but race is not a deciding factor when determining admission.

“UT isn’t looking just to accept students who are coming from either poverty or great privilege,” he said. “They’re looking for diversity, and diversity is a broad concept that cuts across, in many ways, within all of our different communities.”

Mariadason said the policy improves UT’s atmosphere because universities are tasked with providing students with a good education, which includes exposing students to different perspectives based on race, religion and socioeconomic status. He said exposure to those perspectives improves students’ critical thinking skills by allowing them to work through problems of students whose perspectives they do not share.

Karolina Lyznik, staff attorney for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, said facilitating an educational environment that promotes diversity equips students to handle diversity in the workplace.

“Diversity is the future, and it’s something that we all really need to take a stand for and to focus on because of the benefits to all of us, and not just to the 1 percent or number of people who gain admission through a race-conscious admissions plan,” she said.

Damon Hewitt, director of the education practice at the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, said if the plaintiffs’ argument that the University discriminates against white students in favor of minorities were true, minorities would compose a larger segment of the student population.

According to preliminary enrollment data for the fall semester of 2012 provided by the Office of Information Management and Analysis, Hispanic enrollment at UT is 18.4 percent, black enrollment is 4.5 percent and Asian enrollment is 15.2 percent. White student enrollment is 49.8 percent.

Amee’ra Fuller, microbiology junior and Black Student Alliance member, said when she came to UT she worried about finding students who shared her values but found people who not only shared those views but challenged them with differing perspectives.

“I can learn from students, not just the teachers,” she said.

We Support UT, which organized Tuesday’s panel, will conduct a demonstration in support of UT’s holistic review at 11 a.m. Oct. 17 in Gregory Plaza.

Printed on Wednesday, October 3, 2012 as: Admission case speaks to diversity