On June 24, 2013, the Supreme Court of the United States decided the case of Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, 11-345. The case involved Abigail Noel Fisher, who sued the University of Texas after her college application was rejected. She claimed her application was rejected because she is white and that she was being treated differently than some less-qualified minority students who were accepted.
On the website for the University of Texas at Austin, the Office of Admissions lists its mission:
“The University seeks to enroll students who have the potential to thrive and who possess the qualities and attributes the university seeks to build an effective and dynamic learning community. When making admission decisions, the University considers a variety of academic and personal achievement factors, as well as special circumstances that can help to put an applicant’s achievement into context.”
The website also lists 8 special circumstances in an applicant’s life, which sometimes helps an application reviewer get a clearer picture of the applicant’s qualifications:
• Socioeconomic status of family
• Single parent home
• Language spoken at home • Family responsibilities
• Overcoming adversity
• Cultural background
• Race and ethnicity
• Other information in the applicant’s file
Of the 8 special circumstances, Fisher believed the University’s consideration of race and ethnicity was “the” special circumstance that caused the rejection of her application. Fisher missed swimming in the first pool of applicants that gained automatic acceptance to the University. Although she was an in-state student, she did not finish in the top 10% of her high school. She also missed swimming in the second pool of applicants that sought acceptance to a highly competitive school. Why Fisher selected race and ethnicity as “the” source of her failure to gain acceptance to the University is unknown. Perhaps none the University’s special circumstances applied to Fisher nor fit within the University’s goal of creating a diverse student body beyond race.
After the Court issued the decision, Fisher stated, "I am grateful to the justices for moving the nation closer to the day when a student's race isn't used at all in college admissions." Fisher might not have realized that she echoed sentiments originally spoken by Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., on August 28, 1963, in his famous, I Have A Dream speech. King dreamed of a day when his four children would one day live in a nation where they would not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. Almost five decades after Dr. King called for an end to racism, the issue of race continues to appear in news headlines. From racial hatred expressed over a Cheerios commercial, to Paula Dean’s racially insensitive comments, race continues to be the “X” factor.
For some people, it’s hard to find the value of the “X” factor. Sometimes the “X” appears on the right side of the equation and sometimes it appears on the left. The “X” factor constantly shifts in our society. Regardless of its placement in the equation, the University of Texas recognized the value of “X” when it added race and ethnicity to its list of special circumstances for applicants. The University also had support from over 50 companies – including American Express, IBM Corp., and Kraft Foods, Inc., who filed a brief saying they rely on universities to prepare a racially diverse workforce.
When the value of “X” is recognized, Dr. King, Abigail Fisher, and society will be closer to realizing a dream that has been deferred far too long.