Be­ing re­jected by a school does not make you a vic­tim

Cecil Whig - - OPINION - Ruben Navarette Jr.

— Long be­fore the phrase “white priv­i­lege” crept into the na­tional lex­i­con, my par­ents raised me to be­lieve that — as a Mex­i­can-Amer­i­can — I had to be twice as smart, and work twice as hard, just to be con­sid­ered on par with white coun­ter­parts. This is stan­dard op­er­at­ing pro­ce­dure for Latino and African-Amer­i­can par­ents.

Grad­u­at­ing from high school in the 1950s and ‘60s, my par­ents’ gen­er­a­tion was de­nied good schools, jobs, pro­mo­tions, home loans and more be­cause of their race and eth­nic­ity. In­stead of be­ing an­gry and bit­ter, the el­ders

SAN DIEGO

plowed ahead and raised their chil­dren to think that, if they far out-dis­tanced the com­pe­ti­tion, it would be harder for The Man to rob them of what they earned.

Ap­par­ently, Abi­gail Fisher was given a very dif­fer­ent mes­sage grow­ing up. She must have been told that medi­ocre was good enough and that, if she felt vic­tim­ized, she could al­ways hire a lawyer and make a fed­eral case out of it.

Boy did she. De­nied ad­mis­sion to the Univer­sity of Texas at Austin in 2008, Fisher sued the school and claimed that — be­cause she was white — she had been wronged by re­verse dis­crim­i­na­tion. Her case made it all the way to the Supreme Court.

Fisher was only vic­tim­ized by two things: mer­i­toc­racy and math. She lacked the aca­demic chops to be ad­mit­ted on her own steam. And given that UTAustin — with its 52,000 stu­dents — is just 4.5 per­cent African-Amer­i­can and 22 per­cent Latino, it is sta­tis­ti­cally far more likely that she was beaten out by an­other white per­son than by a per­son of color.

Back then, UT-Austin set aside about three-fourths of its avail­able slots to stu­dents who grad­u­ated in the top 10 per­cent of their high school classes. (To­day it is the top 8 per­cent.) The re­main­ing one-fourth were al­lot­ted un­der a sep­a­rate process where ad­mis­sions of­fi­cers weighed sev­eral per­sonal fac­tors in­clud­ing race, eth­nic­ity and so­cioe­co­nomic sta­tus.

Fisher’s grades and test scores weren’t good enough for her to be ad­mit­ted un­der the first cat­e­gory; she grad­u­ated in the top 12 per­cent. Theo- ret­i­cally, she could have still been ad­mit­ted un­der the se­cond cat­e­gory if her per­sonal story had been es­pe­cially com­pelling, in­ter­est­ing and unique. We can as­sume it was none of those things be­cause she was re­jected.

Peo­ple cope with fail­ure in dif­fer­ent ways. Some peo­ple go to a ther­a­pist. Fisher went to court.

Last week, eight years af­ter the law­suit was filed, the high court — by a vote of 4-to-3 — put a mer­ci­ful end to this self-in­dul­gent drama. They ruled in fa­vor of the univer­sity and sent a mes­sage that ad­mis­sions of­fi­cers may con­tinue to con­sider race as one fac­tor among many in pur­suit of a di­verse stu­dent body.

Higher ed­u­ca­tion in Texas could use more di­ver­sity. While African-Amer­i­cans and Lati­nos to­gether ac­count for nearly half of the state’s pop­u­la­tion, they make up only about a quar­ter of the stu­dent pop­u­la­tion at UT-Austin.

Imag­ine the time, money and ef­fort that could have been spared if Fisher’s par­ents had done a bet­ter job of teach­ing her to own up to her short­com­ings and not be so quick to play the vic­tim.

That’s how I was raised. Dur­ing my se­nior year in high school, as I ap­plied to a hand­ful of ex­tremely com­pet­i­tive uni­ver­si­ties, it just never oc­curred to me that — if things didn’t go my way — I should file a law­suit and take it all the way to the Supreme Court.

Imag­ine how much more pro­duc­tive this na­tional con­ver­sa­tion could have been if we had fo­cused in­stead, over the last eight years, on the real prob­lem with tak­ing race and eth­nic­ity into ac­count in col­lege ad­mis­sions. It is not that the prac­tice mag­i­cally leads to sys­tem­atic 1960s-style, across-the-board dis­crim­i­na­tion against whites. Rather, it is that of­ten any such ac­com­mo­da­tion has the un­in­tended con­se­quence of hurt­ing ben­e­fi­cia­ries by weak­en­ing stan­dards, cam­ou­flag­ing in­equal­i­ties at the K-12 level, damp­en­ing stu­dents’ in­cen­tive, stig­ma­tiz­ing re­cip­i­ents, and prop­ping up an un­healthy racial and eth­nic spoils sys­tem that ben­e­fits few while un­der­serv­ing many.

That’s the di­a­logue around racial and eth­nic pref­er­ences that we need to have in this coun­try. But we never get around to it. That’s be­cause we’re too busy re­spond­ing to the lu­di­crous claims of liti­gious un­der­achiev­ers like Abi­gail Fisher.

Ruben Navarette Jr. is a syn­di­cated colum­nist from the Wash­ing­ton Post.

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