Trailed with significant controversy in the past, affirmative action has once again landed in the Supreme Court, as a case currently underway.
In Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin , the case’s plaintiff, Abigail Fisher, is contesting her rejection from the University of Texas at Austin from roughly four years ago on the grounds that she was denied admission because she is white.
Her suit holds that one cannot be denied opportunities on the basis of race, Region 3 Director of the American Association for Affirmative Action Marilynn Schuyler said.
Taking race into account as one of many factors in an application review, however, has been deemed legal. Affirmative action policies are aimed at creating diverse environments by considering varying characteristics from applicants’ backgrounds such race.
“As a matter of law, diversity in higher education is a compelling governmental interest and therefore can be considered in higher education admissions processes,” Penn State Associate Dean for Academic Affairs and Professor of Law, Carla Pratt, said, whose expertise is at the intersection of constitutional law and race.
Pratt wrote in an email that considering race and gender confers a university the ability “to ensure that its student body isn’t all white or all male, but rather a mix of people who can learn from each other’s differences.”
Automatically admitting the top 10 percent of high school graduates in the state — which accounts for approximately 80 to 85 percent of the incoming classes — the University of Texas at Austin assesses the remaining 15 to 20 percent by evaluating other criteria, Schuyler said.
Recent college graduate Fisher, falling short of the top percent, was evaluated in such a way, Schuyler added.
“No one really knows whether she would have been admitted had the university not considered race as one of the several factors in the holistic process,” Schuyler said.
President of Black Caucus at Penn State Ryan Brown (senior-integrative arts) acknowledged that affirmative action has and still holds beneficial value, while he does not think Fisher’s dispute carries a strong foundation.
“I do not honestly believe that race had anything to do with the decision because that is never the determining factor for anything," Brown said.
Brown added that the diversity fostered through affirmative action can best prepare graduates when having to face a variety of different situations and cultural backgrounds upon entering the workforce.
“Individuals who are of a cultural minority are at more of a disadvantage when it comes to specifying your race or ethnicity because there are a lot more people in this world that are prejudiced than what is led on to," Brown said.
President of the NAACP at Penn State, Celiena Bady (senior-international politics) pointed to the central role diversity plays at Penn State.
“I believe that college or any university is a place for students to be given a opportunity to expand themselves. The best way that students can expand themselves is through diversity,” Bady said.
On the other hand, Vice Chair of Young Americans for Freedom at Penn State Christopher Riccio (senior-accounting) holds fast that one is to be evaluated solely on merit for academic admissions. He said race should not be a deciding factor at all.
He added that he rejects the idea of placing people into groups as one is to be assessed as an individual.
“You can have someone from a minority but grew up in a very wealthy family,” Riccio said.
While Schuyler said she thinks it is unlikely that the court would completely eradicate affirmative action at public universities, it could technically cause universities to re-evaluate their admissions policies should the verdict reached by the justices expand beyond the University of Texas at Austin.
Director of Minority Admissions and Coordinator of Multicultural Outreach at Penn State Ed Escalet said Penn State does not use race as an admitting factor, but has a very extensive outreach program in place geared towards recruiting a wide range of minorities, underrepresented groups.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.