Thursday, May 26, 2016

White women benefit most from affirmative action — and are among its fiercest opponents

Victoria M. Massie · Wednesday, May 25, 2016, 9:13 am

The University of Texas Austin was Abigail Fisher's dream school. Fisher, from Sugar Land, Texas, a wealthy Houston suburb, earned a 3.59 GPA in high school and scored an 1180 on the SATs.

Not bad, but not enough for the highly selective UT Austin in fall 2008; Fisher's dreams were dashed when she was denied admission.

In response, Fisher sued. Her argument? That applicants of color, whose racial backgrounds were included as a component of the university's holistic review process, were less qualified students and had displaced her.

Students graduating in the top 10 percent of any Texas high school are granted an automatic spot at UT Austin. Other students are evaluated through a holistic review process including a race-blind review of essays and creating a personal achievement score based on leadership potential, honors and awards, work experience, and special circumstances that include socioeconomic considerations such as race.

A few are accepted through provisional slots that include attending a summer program prior to the fall. One black student, four Latino students, and 42 white students with lower scores than Fisher were accepted under these terms. Also rejected were 168 African-American and Latino students with better scores than Fisher.

According to court documents, even if Fisher had received a perfect personal achievement score that included race (which, in itself, oversimplifies the admissions process), she still would not have necessarily qualified under UT's admission rubric.

In fact, when she applied for the class of 2012, the admission rate for non-automatic admits was more competitive than that of Harvard University.

Nonetheless, Fisher has spent the past seven years in court, and is now awaiting a ruling from the US Supreme Court on whether the use of race in UT's admissions policy violates the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment.

But the battle to erase race from the application review process for admission comes with an interesting paradox: White women like Fisher have been the primary beneficiaries of affirmative action policies.

A 1995 report by the Department of Labor found that 6 million women overall had advances at their job that would not have been possible without affirmative action. For example, the percentage of women physicians tripled from 1970 to 2002 from 7.6 percent to 25.2 percent, and in 2009 women were receiving a majority of bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees, according to the American Association of University Women. Though these stats include women of all races, white women have made strides that their female counterparts of color have yet to match as a whole.

Indeed, contrary to popular belief, affirmative action isn't just black. It's white, too. But affirmative action's white female faces are rarely at the center of the conversation.

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