INSIGHTS

Here’s what I really think about the Fisher case

I hesitated on blogging about this case for a long time because 1) I’d run the risk of seeming too wishy-washy (though I have good reason to) and 2) I’ve never talked about such controversial political issues on my personal blog before (typically I refrain from publicizing my personal political opinions, mainly because I want to hear everyone else’s opinions without them tailoring their opinions to me on what I’ve said). But here it goes…

*Disclaimer/Preface: People’s opinions on affirmative action are perspectives and often based upon their own personal experiences and judgments (read more about this in my op-ed in The Horn). What you’re about to read is merely a reflection of my personal thoughts (not yours or anyone else’s) – respect mine and I’ll respect yours.

Before I begin, here’s a little bit of my background: I’m 21-years-old, female, and Chinese (a young minority female, if you will). I was born in China and have lived there, Canada, Michigan, South Carolina, and Texas (having been exposed to so many different cultures, including politically). I was raised by a family that values hard work above all else – my parents believe in dealing with obstacles with effort and resiliency and they generally don’t believe in privileges of any sort, i.e. I was never allowed to tell a teacher or professor when I was sick, had personal issues (that were very real), etc. These were things I had to deal with, and the only relevant personnel were my family. If something disappointing results – such as a bad grade – I had to overcome, because bad things happen to people all of the time and I shouldn’t be dealt an upper-hand just because I was caught at a moment of weakness.

That being said, how do I feel about affirmative action? I sit on the fence. I experience cognitive dissonance being both for and against it.

On the matter of fairness…

…I can see the case from both sides.

Why I could be for affirmative action: Minorities are generally underprivileged in terms of socioeconomic status (and thus the public education school systems they are exposed to) and general day-to-day interactions with people. There is often no access to better schools and a cultural atmosphere of academic competition and prestige like there often is in geographic areas that are more privileged (and also often more white-dominated). And in interacting with people, minorities are often prejudiced against, because no matter how non-racist we say we are, we always will be, even if just a infinitesimal amount – it’s biological, in our DNAs (yes, even if you’re in an interracial marriage). Discrimination not only gives us an institutional disadvantage in many situations, but it’s also incredibly emotionally discouraging and discouragement often keeps people from reaching their full potential. Those of you who know me may be shocked to know this, but I am acutely aware of even the most subtle acts of discrimination I experience on a daily basis – both because I am a minority and because I am a woman. But you don’t know that I feel this way. You don’t know this because I don’t talk about it  (until now). I don’t talk about it because nothing is fair (it’s a hard-knock life) and I’m just going to have to work hard to overcome this unfairness, which leads me to my next point…

Why I could be against affirmative action: I am Chinese and a part of the “model minority”. Affirmative action harms me. I was admitted into UT as an out-of-state student, thus having to go through the holistic process that considers race. UT’s Asian population is overrepresented (roughly one in every five students). I had to make sure I worked hard enough to not only compete against day-to-day discouraging discrimination throughout my entire life (especially in SC – SC, I love you dearly, but you were often difficult to handle) but also with the fact that Asians are overrepresented on campus. This is a double whammy. I could easily say, “Hey look, life is hard. And some of us are just going to have to work harder to get what we want.”

But then you can say that I’ve been “privileged” my entire life because I’ve had a great family situation. True, but what about my dad? My dad grew up in rural China, a place I visited a few years ago and their human waste is still operated with outhouses (holes in the ground). He grew up in this impoverished environment but somehow managed to go to Nanjing University (Harvard/Yale/Princeton equivalent in China) and get a bachelor’s and master’s, and then went on to the University of Alberta (Harvard/Yale/Princeton equivalent in Canada) receiving his second master’s, and finally ending up at the University of Michigan where he secured his Ph.D. Sure seems like he was able to overcome the conditions he was born and raised in – but you can also say he was one of the rare cases.

Now you see why I’m so incredibly torn on this issue. There are way too many factors to consider and I don’t know how much weight to give to each.

On the matter of outcomes…

(Again, you can read about what diversity means to me in my op-ed.) It absolutely terrifies me to change our admissions policy in any manner that may undermine the diversity we strive to achieve. This isn’t just an issue for the present, the here-and-now. Have we considered what UT would look like not only in the next five years, but in 10 years? In 20 years? The reason why UT is so well-known worldwide is both a direct and indirect result of our diversity. And we attract great students all over the state (and country and world) because of our prestige. If we took away our current diversity, wouldn’t our prestige fall, too? And if our prestige falls, wouldn’t we no longer attract great students? Wasn’t Abigail Fisher attracted to UT because we would have given her a more “prestigious” degree? It’s a catch-22.

Also, if we want to consider an even bigger picture – what will happen to America in the global sphere? Can we compete in the global sphere without this diversity? For us to be in a good position globally, we need other countries to respect us. Other countries can respect us only if we have Americans who are cognizant that there are different cultures, who are able to work with them, who are able to communicate with people who have different backgrounds. These Americans build their abilities to do so based on past experiences – probably past experiences from work. And what makes us likely to end up in work that exposes us to diversity is often (though admittedly, not always) because we had college experiences that exposed us to diversity. And the rest is history.

So, I guess what I’m trying to say is…

…we need to consider long-run implications. Affirmative action, in my opinion, can be validly argued to be constitutional or unconstitutional. Both sides can make a great case. Whether affirmative action is upheld or struck down, we need to keep our diversity in some way.

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