Diversity dialogue continues on anniversary of Fisher v. UT landmark decision

Wesley Story

It’s been a year since the hashtag #StayMadAbby populated Twitter feeds and Facebook pages, but dialogues about diversity on campus continue as the campus reflects on racially charged incidents that occurred throughout the year in response to a landmark Supreme Court decision.

One year ago today, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of UT Austin in the Abigail Fisher v. University of Texas case, allowing the University to continue using race as a factor in the holistic admissions process. Many students believe, however, that even with that process in place, UT needs to do more to improve diversity on campus.

In 2008, Abigail Fisher, a white female, sued the University, claiming she was denied admission based on her race because of UT’s affirmative action process. In 2016, the Supreme Court upheld the ruling of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in favor of UT in a 4-3 decision. Many supporters of affirmative action held the decision as a landmark victory.

Christle Nwora, a UT alumna and second-year medical student at McGovern Medical School, was the director of operations for Afrikan American Affairs in UT’s Multicultural Engagement Center in 2016. The NAACP Legal Defense Fund extended Nwora the opportunity to sit in on the oral arguments during the Fisher case, and she later spoke in front of the Supreme Court.

Nwora said that while the case was a major victory, UT is far from achieving a diverse campus.

“We are nowhere close to where I believe we should be,” Nwora said. “I know the campus has had a very tumultuous two years, and I am respectful of that, but I think we need to consider what our campus looks like and if it’s truly reflective of the state we live in.”

This past school year, UT made national headlines when an anti-affirmative action bake sale hosted by the Young Conservatives of Texas led to a heated protest. The bake sale was met with extreme criticism from students, many of whom believed the University should have taken disciplinary action against YCT.

“I absolutely believe that events like that and the University’s response deter people from coming to UT,” Nwora said. “You can’t just have people on your campus for the sake of saying ‘look, we’re diverse.’ If we want to diversify the face of the 40 Acres, the University has to have a backbone to stand up for what’s right and support certain demographics when they’re being targeted.”

Joey Williams, communications director for the provost’s office, said UT has a number of different initiatives to increase diversity, including growing a more diverse applicant pool.

“Year after year, we’ve seen huge increases in the number of people that are applying,” Williams said. “The past three years we’ve been setting a new record for the University, and this past year we had over 50,000 applications.”

The admissions office has a recruiting and outreach team that works with high school counselors across the state to recruit students and spark conversations about college early on. The Division of Diversity and Community Engagement also offers boot camps, leadership development sessions and service projects to help prepare students in underserved areas to submit their applications.

During the oral arguments for the case, UT expressed that race was just a “factor of a factor of a factor” of the admissions process because they also evaluate applicants using factors such as their essays, personal achievements, leadership roles and extracurricular activities.

“Because it is holistic and we’re looking at many different factors and it’s not quantitative in the sense that it carries a specific value, you can’t answer the question of ‘how much weight does race carry?’” said Michael Orr, associate director of admissions. “It is one amongst a variety of different factors that we look at.”

Nwora credits many of her opportunities to the African American precursors — the students that came to the University before her and helped pave the way. Nwora said affirmative action is necessary because applications should reflect all of the unique experiences of an individual.

“For me and for many other people, how we identify from a racial or ethnic perspective really does inform how we’ve interacted with the world,” Nwora said.