In 2008, two young women with similar academic records applied to the University of Texas at Austin for spots in the freshman class. One of the women, Abigail Fisher (pictured above), was rejected. The other, Tedra Jacobs, was accepted. Fisher is white. Jacobs is black.1
Blatantly unfair, right? Abigail Fisher thinks so. Like many others, she seems convinced the race is the only reason she was not accepted to UT Austin. Because it’s a matter of “merit”:
“I’m hoping that they’ll completely take race out of the issue in terms of admissions and that everyone will be able to get into any school that they want no matter what race they are but solely based on their merit and if they work hard for it.”2
Fisher didn’t make the cut under the UT “Top Ten” program, in which the top students at each public school are guaranteed admission (the percentage varies from year to year and has been eight percent in the past). She had a 3.57 GPA and an SAT of 1180.* (on a scale of 1600–see addition below.) She was not in the top ten percent of her class. Tedra Jacobs, the African American applicant, had an SAT score that was almost 100 points higher than Fisher. Jacobs received provisional admission under the “holistic” admissions review, of which one factor may be race or other circumstances. Jacobs was also required to complete a summer program before enrolling.
In addition, the University of Texas has stated that there were students of color with higher scores who were denied admission as well as white students with lower scores who were admitted.
But in Fisher’s viewpoint, it was the students of color who took her spot. The spot that was rightfully hers, despite a less-than-stellar academic performance. Many in the media view the case through this white lens as well, as demonstrated so capably by the Atlantic’s lede paragraph above.
Fisher is white. Jacobs is black.
Both Fisher and Jacobs reportedly went to competitive high schools. Jacobs’ mother moved so that she could attend a better high school. Undoubtedly Jacobs would have been admitted under the “Top Ten” program if she had been in a crummy public school. Fisher certainly could have moved to a less-competitive high school if she wanted to guarantee admission. Funny how many white people who say it’s just a matter of bootstraps and hard work aren’t moving their kids to less selective schools to prove their point.
Jacobs comes from a single-parent household with no college graduates in the immediate family. Fisher’s parents are both college graduates, and at least one of her parents and her sister attended UT Austin.
So if both students had comparable test scores and grades, which would I consider the better applicant? I’d have to say Jacobs. We talk about the level playing field all the time. But Jacobs didn’t begin the race at the start line. She was somewhere behind it. Yet she managed to catch up.
After working with kids in “inner-city” schools, I have to say that the majority belief that some people don’t value education is a bald-faced lie. I didn’t meet any parents who didn’t value education. But I met parents who were struggling to support their kids while working long hours at minimum-wage jobs. I met parents who were illiterate or who had very little education who wanted their kids to do better. I met parents who tried their hardest with the most limited of resources.
And I went into schools where the resources consisted of encyclopedias that were published forty years before the kids were even born. Where the teachers bought their own supplies because the school didn’t provide them. Where the textbooks were worn and outdated. (Wasn’t it Sherman Alexie who found his mother’s name written in the textbook he was given to use?)
Ever been in some of those schools? Ever been in some of the wealthy suburban schools? Compare and contrast.
The resources at home vary greatly as well. Like food. Wealthy households have it. All the time. Every day.
But even putting the “holistic” review stuff aside, Fisher is focused only on the students of color who were admitted when she was not. Which reveals a very deeply-ingrained privileged viewpoint. Fisher is not railing about the white students who were admitted with lower numbers. The students of color with higher scores who weren’t admitted aren’t her concern either. Fisher’s concern is not about meritocracy. Her desire is the reinstatement of unquestioned privilege.
Look at the numbers (.pdf file link).
Only five percent of the black students who were admitted under holistic review had SATs in Fisher’s range. The mean SAT score for African American students under the other admits was 1728 (on a 2400 scale). Fisher’s SAT was 1180* (on a 1600 scale), remember? (Note addition below.) And that was on her second attempt. (Note also that wealthy students can afford to take the test more than once and can afford both the time and the cost of prep courses.) Numbers for white students were not provided.
The total percentage of African American students admitted under holistic review was four. White students were 60 percent of the total.
Less than one percent of the total all-race “other admits” had SAT scores in Fisher’s range. That’s students of all colors, yo. Including white folks.
We saw the same argument in the Gratz case. Jennifer Gratz had a 3.8 GPA and an ACT of 25. Michigan admitted more than 1400 white and Asian students with lower scores. It rejected more than 2000 students of color with higher scores. Yet Gratz focused on the students of color who had taken “her” place. Jennifer Gratz remains so convinced of the injustice that she has made fighting affirmative action her life’s work, starting with the “Michigan Civil Rights Initiative.”
Welcome to post-racial Bizarro World, where whites suffer from racism and have legitimate complaints, endorsed by the review of the Supreme Court. Where they are not provided with the preferential gateway to success. Where they have no freedom of speech. Where they are like n****** on a corporate plantation. Where they are lynched.
Because Abigail Fisher won’t be accused of playing the race card. Because she won’t be told to get over it or to work hard and pull herself up by her bootstraps. Because she won’t be told she has a victim mentality.
Because white people are fighting for civil rights. Because they are champions of equality.
*Edited to add: It appears Fisher’s reported score was the combination of her verbal (500) and math scores (680), which has a maximum of 1600. The writing score is potentially an additional 800 points. UT apparently does not consider the writing score, although I assume the numbers from the UT site includes the writing score since the top value is 2400. If one assumes Fisher’s score on the writing section is comparable to her verbal score, she would have a total of 1680. Even assuming a perfect score her total would still only be 1980, which is good but not stellar. In any event, 1180/1600 is not particularly good. *shrug*
The University has stated that even if Fisher received a “perfect” score on the Personal Achievement Index, she would not have been admitted because her Academic Index was simply not strong enough. Additionally, 42 white students with combined AI/PAI scores equal to or lower than Fisher received provisional admission. Respondent’s brief here (.pdf file).
Fisher was also offered admission to a program in which she could attend another UT school and then transfer to UT Austin in her sophomore year if she maintained a 3.2 GPA. She declined, which tells me she really didn’t want to go to UT and thus her complaint is without merit.