Far from Fisher

Pete Stroud

In 2008, high school senior Abigail Fisher was in a position to which many of us can relate: She had applied to UT and was anxiously awaiting the school’s reply. She didn’t qualify for automatic admission because she wasn’t in the top ten percent of her graduating class. But she had great test scores, extensive extracurricular activities and good essays, so she had little reason to worry. Until she was rejected.

Abigail and her lawyers surmised that she had been unfairly denied in favor of applicants from underrepresented minorities who were equally or less qualified than her. They blamed this on UT’s admissions policies, which are meant to promote greater diversity on campus and in the classroom. She sued the University under the Equal Protection clause of the 14th Amendment, and this October her case will be heard by the US Supreme Court.

In 2011, before I even knew who Abigail Fisher was, I also found myself awaiting word of my admission into UT. Just before my senior year, the magic number had shrunk to eight percent, leaving me just outside the pool of automatically admitted applicants. But I had a great SAT score, two essays that several professional writers assured me were top-notch and good grades, so I figured I was golden. I’ll admit that in my hubris I even considered UT my “safety” school. So it surprised me when the letter arrived and told me I wouldn’t get to be a Longhorn in the fall. Adding insult to injury, immediately after I’d sent in the application, my high school updated my class rank and I moved up a couple of spots into the top eight percent. Citing this change as evidence, I sent a letter to the UT Appeals Committee, which denied my plea for reasons they apparently couldn’t be bothered to explain. With no other options that would put me on the Forty Acres, I accepted Arizona State University’s offer of admission and moved to Tempe.

I’m not writing this to invite pity, or thumb my nose at the UT Admissions Office (tempting though that may be). Nor am I writing this to express my solidarity with Ms. Fisher. Those are the easy options. I’m writing this to say that while I completely sympathize with her frustration, I’m throwing my support behind the University instead.

UT’s policy is officially intended to promote campus diversity based on the Grutter v. Bollinger decision, in which the high court ruled that diversity in public universities serves “a compelling interest.” But my opinions are not based upon by court precedent, and the reason I support the University’s policy is about fairness. Because while I was woefully unlucky with UT Admissions, I hit the jackpot on the day I was born.

I was lucky enough to be born to a comfortably middle class family of white Anglo-Saxon Protestants in the wealthiest nation in the world. My parents were both employed. They had the luxury of choosing where we lived, and so for my entire life I went to excellent schools. Due to my astounding good fortune, I have never gone hungry. I have never slept without a roof over my head. I have never been called a racial slur. I have never been in the minority. And until I was denied by UT, I never had to work for anything.

My academic qualifications came about not in spite of my circumstances, but because of them. I’ve known from the time I knew what the word meant that I was going to college. After all, everyone in my family on both sides had gone to college as far back as we could remember. That was just what you did after high school. It was a shock when I found out that wasn’t true for everybody.

According to a report by the American Council on Education, the year before Abigail Fisher applied to UT, 45 percent of college-age whites were enrolled in higher-education institutions, compared to 33 percent of African Americans and 27 percent of Hispanics. That vast discrepancy isn’t because we’re smarter. It’s because of centuries of slavery, segregation and the kind of institutionalized discrimination that kept black students from UT until 1956. In the race to the top, Ms. Fisher and I have enjoyed a 350-year head start.

Affirmative action programs like UT’s admissions policy don’t tilt the playing field in favor of minority candidates; they return the already-tilted field to level ground. As far as I’m concerned, Ms. Fisher and I are unfortunate but inevitable casualties in the morally justifiable struggle for equal opportunity. I’m okay with that, because my denial by UT was the first time that things didn’t roll my way, and it was about damn time.

After my rejection last year I could have sued on the same grounds as Ms. Fisher if I’d wanted to. But in retrospect that rejection was the best thing that ever happened to me. For the first time in my life, I was tested. At Arizona State University, I pulled all-nighters, studied for tests, avoided the world-famous ASU party scene and worked to keep my GPA as high as possible. I tried once more to get into UT, and this time, the hard work paid off. I can now look everybody on campus in the eye knowing I actually worked to get here. That wouldn’t have happened if they’d let me in the first time.

I can’t speak for Ms. Fisher. Maybe this is the latest in a lifelong string of setbacks and adversities for her. But one fact remains as true for her as it was for me: She could’ve studied a little harder in high school to make it squarely into the top ten percent.

Stroud is an international relations and global studies major from San Antonio.