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Government/Politics

Supreme Court Rules In Favor Of UT’s Affirmative Action Admissions Policy

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Justices on the U.S. Supreme Court in a narrow decision on Thursday decided that UT-Austin’s “use of race” in deciding its college admissions was constitutional.  It's a ruling that will forever impact the lives of prospective college students and the future of college admissions policies.

It’s been a question floating around the federal court system since 2008, when Abigail Fisher, a white student who was denied admission to UT-Austin filed a lawsuit, claiming that her race kept her from being admitted to the school.   Justices said the use of a person’s race for college admissions was constitutional and that the consideration was only a small component of the admissions process.

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Andy Escobar, UT-Austin graduate

Andy Escobar is a direct beneficiary of UT’s admissions policy.  He graduated from his high school in 2011, and just 1-percent shy of making his graduating class’ top 10 percent, which would have qualified him for automatic admission into UT.

“So since I was right outside the top 10, I was holistically admitted into UT," Escobar explains.

And based on that admissions policy, Escobar says he was able to not only attend college but also contribute to the overall diversity of the student body at UT and part of a broader conversation among fellow students.

“You know to say that race should not be considered, how am I supposed to talk about my experience without talking about my experience as a brown Latino.  As someone who grew up as a minority in a predominantly white community.  You know, that is my experience," Escobar says.

Marisa Bono, an attorney with the Mexican-American Legal Defense and Education Fund points to the justices’ language on how this same effort to promote diversity can benefit students’ educational outcomes and success in the workplace.

“They include promoting cross-racial understanding, breaking down racial stereotypes, promoting learning outcomes and generally better preparing students for an increasingly diverse workforce and society," Bono explains.

UT-Austin Student Body President Kevin Helligrin says having these policies in place has certainly broadened his perspective.  He defends the university’s use of affirmative action in order to diversify the overall student body.

“I, as a white male firmly believe that I learn more from women, from people of color, from people who choose to practice a religion that is different than mine than I do from someone who looks just like me," Hellgrin says.

But the high court’s narrow decision also came with a directive that asks colleges and universities to continue to look for race-neutral policies like the state’s top 10 percent rule.

Professor Al Kaufman teaches at St. Mary’s University School of Law in San Antonio and helped formulate the state legislature’s top 10 percent rule in 1997, which was labeled as a race-neutral policy at the time aimed at promoting diversity.

“It was effective, but not effective enough.  They were still missing out on a lot of qualified students who were not in the top 10 percent," Kaufman explains.

While defending its affirmative action policy, UT-officials say they will continue to examine race-neutral methods in its admissions process that help promote diversity at all of its 14 campuses.

Attorneys with the Project for Fair Representation, the non-profit representing Abigail Fisher in court were not available for comment.