White Privilege Undermines Diversity in Higher Education - Higher Education
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White Privilege Undermines Diversity in Higher Education

by Larissa Estes, Dr. Tanisha Price-Johnson, and Dr. Marina L. Ramirez

Beyond institutionalized and internalized racism and classism, there is a cloud of entitlement that weighs heavy like a dense fog: White privilege. The contours of Fisher v. The University of Texas at Austin eloquently exhibits how a young White female’s institutionalized privilege hinders the veracity of diversity in higher education. Abigail Fisher’s rejection and subsequent blame on affirmative action is rooted in her privilege of never hearing “no” and never having to justify her admission beyond the insinuation that a person of color had “her spot.”

Many of us were rejected by a school we longed to attend or a job we desperately wanted. But we did not think that someone stole “our” spot. We did not dwell on not being accepted by a school and wasting taxpayer dollars on pursuing a meritless court case. Instead, motivation kicked in. When given “the” opportunity, we became committed to taking advantage of the opportunity and performing our best to demonstrate we are capable of producing exceptional work-products.

The linchpin of an educational framework is mission alignment that requires institutions to intentionally grow a community of scholars reflective of the ever-changing U.S. demographics. Continuing with business as usual—reflecting the mindset of Justice Scalia and his proponents—will regrettably reinforce the history of racism, classism, and exclusion in the U.S. and fail to recognize the overall purpose of affirmative action.

Justice Scalia’s commentary that African-American students perform better in “less advanced,” “slower-track” schools displays a blatant notion that perception is not objective, as legally required of an adjudicator. When an individual of such prestigious, academic and professional accolades willfully exerts bias commentary at the highest level of our American legal justice system, it is apparent that the goal of affirmative action will not be met within twenty-five (25) years, as suggested by Justice Sandra Day O’Connor in 2003.

If Abigail really wanted to create a world beyond the need for affirmative action in higher education, she would be proactively advocating the underlying issue that drives inequity: equitable opportunity. Fisher has nothing to do with the capacity of people of color to succeed in top tier institutions of higher education but everything to do with a young woman’s White privilege and the Court upholding that privilege. It is okay for people to say “no.” The Supreme Court should have said “no” to Abigail, not uplift the sandbox meltdown of a young woman who does not understand it is okay for someone to tell you “no.” The University of Texas’ stand on diversity in higher education is a “yes” to Ms. Fisher’s “no.”

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