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Affirmative Action, a thing of the past?

The college admissions process is something most of us would never like to have to relive.
It’s a stressful time filling out applications, writing variations of the same personal statement and dealing with the attendant stress of finding a large or small envelope in the mailbox. However, for one girl, though she graduated from LSU this past May, she will have to relive this time of her life in front of the Supreme Court.
This week the Supreme Court will hear arguments in the case of Fisher v. The University of Texas. Abigail Fisher, a white 22-year-old female, claims she was denied admission to the University of Texas because she was white, while other less-qualified minority students gained admission over her. She alleges that she suffered real economic harm from not being admitted to the well-regarded University of Texas and had to attend Louisiana State University instead, and that her future earning prospects have been diminished by not attending her first-choice school.
The Supreme Court, as it’s currently constructed, could likely overturn affirmative action in higher education in this decision. Affirmative actions plans were held by the court to be constitutional in the 2003 case Grutter v. Bollinger. Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, who is now retired, wrote the majority opinion and cited studies that found diverse campuses were more successful in a number of factors. However, the holding has been eroded in recent years, especially in the lower levels of education.
Supporters of affirmative action cite the need for diversity on campuses as well as the importance of training future leaders who are more demonstrative of the population at-large. There are also numerous studies that point to more diverse campuses being more academically and socially successful campuses. It also prepares students to better handle the diversity they are sure to encounter in the professional world.
However, affirmative action is not without its detractors. There’s a theory called “mismatch” that says affirmative action allows students to gain admission to schools they are not suited for, and that their subsequent performance suffers. Studies have shown that schools with affirmative action programs tend to graduate fewer minority students than schools with race-blind admissions programs. Affirmative action detractors then argue that minority students at schools without affirmative action programs are actually more successful then they would have been at a school with an affirmative action policy.
The sad fact of the matter is that in 2012, there is no equal opportunity in public education across the board. Public schools have resegregated, and the Supreme Court has upheld public schools’ right not to reintegrate. This has caused school integration levels to drop down to their 1950s levels, which is troubling and indicative of a much larger problem.
This year we celebrated the 50th anniversary of the integration of Ole Miss, and while we’ve come a long way, it’s still startling to see how far we still have to go. Theoretically, today we should be moving toward a race-blind admissions policy; however, affirmative action still needs a place in our higher education. The need for affirmative action programs is symptomatic of a much larger systemic problem in our education system as a whole.
At the most basic levels, our public schools should be providing equal education to all our students, regardless of the color of their skin. Until schools can do that, affirmative action programs in higher education will sadly remain necessary.

Brittany Sharkey is a third-year law student from Oceanside, Calif. She graduated from NYU in 2010 with a degree in politics. Follow her on Twitter @brittanysharkey.