As Emerson students, we all have one thing in common — and no, it is not a superiority complex, a fledgling caffeine addiction, or an affinity for Yellowtail. Rather, by the help of parents, student loans, or grants and scholarships, we were all given an opportunity to partake in higher education. Pending a Supreme Court decision on a case that took place earlier this week, the opportunity we were given as Emerson students may likely be revoked from a segment of our nation.
The Supreme Court is currently deliberating over the future of affirmative action and whether or not it is a useful tool in accomplishing diversity. In the case of Fisher v. Texas, a white woman named Abigail Fisher who was denied admission into the University of Texas, sued because she felt she didn’t get in based on her race. Because she has already lost at three levels of the justice system, it appears likely the Supreme Court will take her side.
However, upon reading the transcript and listening to the audio of the case, my primary reaction was not towards Fisher, or even the University of Texas, but to Chief Justice Roberts and his failure to recognize the long-term vision that affirmative action stands to achieve. During the case, Roberts repeatedly asked, “When will we know we’ve reached critical mass?” Meaning, when will we know when affirmative action is no longer necessary?
It was strikingly evident that Roberts was focusing on the short-term view when the long-term view is required.
“You do not take a person who, for years, has been hobbled by chains and liberate him, bring him up to the starting line of a race,” President Lyndon Johnson said in a 1965 speech that laid the groundwork for affirmative action, “and then say, ‘You are free to compete with all the others,’ and still justly believe you have been completely fair.” Although America may no longer be at the starting line of the race, we are certainly not at the finish, and that is something we must not ignore.
Both of my parents matriculated during the peak years of the Civil Rights Movement, and I know that they would not be where they are today — a doctor and a teacher — without passing through a series of schools and businesses that valued diversity. That is not to say that my parents were in any way less qualified, but there were forces working against them that were bigger than their GPA and SAT score — the color of their skin.
While times have changed and tolerance, acceptance, and understanding has greatly improved since my parents’ time in college, I know from my own personal experiences as a minority that racial insensitivity, racial bias, and outright racism are still prevalent in the United States of America. Therefore, Justice Roberts simply asking, “When will we reach critical mass?” is overlooking the more important question of when our nation will be devoid of racial prejudice.
Justice Roberts is negligent of the fact that the need for diversity at the university level stems from a desire to change that people who had access to education in this country were, up until very recently, of only a certain class and race of people. Thus, our commitment to diversity, at its core, charges us to be a more fair and inclusive nation. To do so we must acknowledge the simple truth that not everybody in this country starts out with the same benefits, access, and abilities to achieve.