As protests rage on college campuses across the nation, they force us all to confront the issues surrounding racial discrimination in academia.
On Dec. 9, the discourse will make its way to the Supreme Court of the United States, where Abigail Fisher will challenge the ability of colleges to take race into consideration when admitting students.
The University of Texas at Austin denied Fisher, who is white, admission — she will argue that the school’s decision violated the Constitution’s equal protection clause because her race was a factor.
In the 2003 case Grutter v. Bollinger, the Supreme Court decided that the only justification for racial considerations in school admissions is to create “educational diversity so that students of different backgrounds can learn from each other,” The New York Times reported earlier this week.
The intention is that more students of color will equate to more racial tolerance and understanding on college campuses.
It seems, though, that the protests on college campuses today illustrate that affirmative action has brought the opposite effect. Protestors argue the college environment treats students of color unequally, causing them to feel belittled or even unsafe in the classroom and on campus.
At Pitt’s rally for students of color at the University of Missouri, an organizer told The Pitt News, “We are here to demand that black students be able to feel safe. To be able to learn. To be able to grow. If it’s not happening in our schools, then what next?”
Many argue that affirmative action is the cause of unrest among students, and provides the Supreme Court a solid reason to decide in favor of Fisher.
“Students who are recruited, because of their race, to colleges where the average entering credentials are significantly higher than their own will find themselves at severe academic disadvantage,” John C. Eastman, a law professor at Chapman University in Orange, California, told The New York Times. “Basic human nature suggests that they will then try to blame others for their academic struggles.”
However, this argument gravely misses the point — these protests are not simply a result of academic competition, but of institutional discrimination, which only becomes more apparent as more and more students of color attend high-profile universities.
So yes, these protests could very well be a result of affirmative action — but that’s not a bad thing. The protests give the ever growing minority student population a voice in traditionally white-dominated college campuses. They have already led Princeton and Harvard to abolish the term “house master,” because of the title’s connection to slavery. They have even led the University of Texas itself to remove a statue of Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederacy during the Civil War, from campus.
Would schools even consider such moves if it were not for the relatively new, emboldened minority voices on college campuses? Most likely not.
These protests should illustrate to the Supreme Court that affirmative action is doing exactly what it’s supposed to do: It allows students and faculty to better understand the perspective of minority students by bringing their voices to college campuses.
And whether or not the school is hearing these voices through a simple discussion or through a megaphone, at least they are finally hearing them.