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Status, Not Race, Should Be Basis of Affirmative Action

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The Supreme Court of the United States is about to hear a case that may change the status quo on affirmative action. Fisher v. the University of Texas at Austin is going to be heard this term and may cause constitutional interpretations to be changed such that any form of affirmative action is seen as a violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Race could cease to be a factor in college admissions and employment, as it currently is at countless universities and employers across the U.S., including the University of Wisconsin. While I believe that society may be far along enough to leave race in and of itself behind, I feel that rather than ending affirmative action, it should be adjusted to better fit the realities of society. Affirmative action should be focused on socioeconomic factors rather than race.

As reported by NPR, Abigail Fisher and Rachel Michalewicz, both white females, were rejected from the University of Texas in 2008. The two women filed suit because race was one of many factors that Texas considered in rejecting them. If these two women were rejected solely on the basis of race, this case is a clear violation of Equal Protection. However, there is more to it than that.

Under Grutter v. Bollinger, universities are allowed to employ affirmative action in the interest of diversity, as shown by the Legal Information Institute. Points and quota systems have been ruled unconstitutional throughout the years. Grutter also includes a sunset clause, meaning the decision will no longer be applicable in 2028. Fisher v. The University of Texas may have Grutter v. Bollinger completely over turned.

I hesitantly support an end to racial affirmative action because it approaches the issue from the wrong side. This is not to say that diversity is not something to be valued or that those who live under difficult circumstances should be punished for their disposition. Affirmative action should be adjusted to better fit reality.

Race should not be the guiding factor; socioeconomic status should be. There is a good deal of correlation between race and poverty that should not be ignored. Issues of poverty often stem from our nation's stained history on issues of race. I do not believe that people of similar financial situations and upbringing should be distinguished on the basis of race.

It is, however, hard to make the case that a person who grew up in a gang-ridden, impoverished, underfunded inner city should not receive preferential treatment over someone who did not have to overcome those obstacles. It is also hard to make the case to perpetuate an undereducated working class, which likely and tragically will only extend generational poverty and inequality.

In my lifetime, I have had the opportunity to meet and befriend people that have overcome such difficulty. I have many friends who are first generation immigrants and many friends who speak Spanish at home. As a student, I could not comprehend overcoming a language barrier. These friends have often overcome a great deal, and that should definitely be a factor in their admission decisions. The color of their skin should not.

While race remains an important issue in America today, affirmative action based on race is the wrong remedy for the issue. There is a strong case that affirmative action, as executed by this university and countless others across the nation, is a violation of the Equal Protection Clause. However, one could make the case just as easily that not using socioeconomic status as a factor in college admissions is just as much a violation of the Equal Protection Clause because it denies people equal opportunity based on where and how they grew up.

Affirmative action programs should continue based on students' socioeconomic backgrounds rather than on their race, and while there is a correlation between race and socioeconomic status, it should be applied equally to people of all ethnicities and races that have had to overcome a great deal. Affirmative action as it stands oversimplifies a serious issue. I hope the Fisher v. the University of Texas case yields results that send America in the right direction.

Spencer Lindsay (sclindsay@wisc.edu) is a freshman majoring in political science.

This piece first appeared in The Badger Herald: www.badgerherald.com Questions: Signe Brewster, Editor-in-Chief, The Badger Herald |sbrewster@badgerherald.com (608) 257-4712 x101