The Diversity in Higher Education Post-Fisher Conference hosted by The University of Texas at Austin School of Law (UT Law) and sponsored by the Division of Diversity and Community Engagement (DDCE) and the Heman Sweatt Symposium proved to be a day of engaging conversation, heavy reflection and encouraging strategy. Panelists from around the country led thought provoking discussions on a variety of topics all focused on the battle of race-based affirmative action. Although housed at The University of Texas at Austin (UT) and centered on the Fisher case, each discussion revealed that this was indeed a national conversation of great significance.
The Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin lawsuit was used as a spring board to discuss the quantitative and anecdotal evidence in support of class based and race based affirmative action, calling into question the future of students of color at public institutions of higher learning. A multitude of voices contributed to the day’s discussions including UT’s own Vice President for Legal Affairs Patti Olendorf and Director of Admissions Kedra Ishop, former UT professor Douglas Laylock and University of Texas at Austin School of Law alum David Hinojosa. They were joined by colleagues from across the country bringing the perspective of Yale University, the University of Virginia, Ohio State University, Columbia University Law School, Princeton University and nonprofit organizations like MALDEF and Century Foundation.
The day began with the Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin: A Primer which provided the social and political context for the day, even citing the history of integration at the university. Panelists summarized the events and impact of cases like Sweatt v. Painter and Brown v. Board drawing parallels to the opposition to progress taking place in 2014.
Joshua Civin, who worked as general counsel for the NAACP for six years, discussed the time on campus after the Hopwood decision when it was determined race should not be used as a factor in admissions. He said that the numbers of Hispanic and African American students plummeted and disclosed that “a host of incidents magnified the sense of exclusion on campus” that continued for a time even after the Grutter decision. “There was a sense that far too many of the students we represented were tokens in class—this experience really affected their learning and the learning of others,” he said.
The question of critical mass was discussed as well. Sharon Davies, a law faculty member at the Ohio State University, noted the country’s rapidly changing demographics. “No critical mass number we could set today would be appropriate ten years from now,” she said. Davies believes shifting demographics has helped increase racial anxiety. “That is why we have to know each other better than we do now,” she said. “Universities across the nation are where young people have their first experiences with those from other races.”
The day progressed with an in-depth conversation on Achieving Diversity Through Race-Neutral Admissions Programs and a provocative keynote address from Princeton University Professor of Sociology and Public Affairs, Marta Tienda on thinking Beyond Affirmative Action: From Diversity to Inclusion.
Most left the conference feeling enlightened and educated, but others ended the day feeling challenged and overwhelmed by the immense about of information and pressure to take action to solve the complex challenges reviewed throughout the day. DDCE was pleased that many of the conversations helped to support current efforts such as the African American Males Research Initiative, Project Males, and many of DDCE’s community engagement efforts that speak to the imperative educational, social and latent functions of diversity on campus.
Find a few notable remarks/quotes from the day’s events below:
- “We can’t just depend on the admissions numbers, we have to focus on the experience of each student once they are there.”
- “Public universities are symbols of democracy and power, what we do, how we value diversity matters beyond our four walls.”
- “Throughout history Black males have experienced the worse of all social disparities, and they haven’t reached a level of comparison even with race consciousness a part of higher education consideration.”
- “Affirmative action helps celebrate diversity within diversity.”
- “In the height of the post Civil Rights movement affirmative action was about the United States commitment to desegregation, some 60 years later it’s now a matter of value, do we as a country value diversity, value fairness an value all types of social capital?”
- “We must be equally committed to institutional strategies to engage the diverse population, it’s a question of recruitment versus retention.”
- “Mission of many minority groups is to teach others of our ourselves and yet, we are teaching and talking to ourselves…we must challenge homogenous practices that encourage like-minded consensus communities.”
- “Shared commitment to diversity play out differently in school and employment context”
- “Outcome and impact of Fisher is the relevance and value of race conscious hiring practices to create types of works place environments that are desired.“
- “What is the motivation of diversity at universities? Is it defense from criticism or is it understanding of its value? Can you commit yourself to diversity, inclusion and invest in metric measurements to climb ranks in U.S. World Report?”
- “The concept of diversity can be exhausting, so the messaging of diversity is important. We should focus on shared values and concepts of fairness, equal access and opportunity.”
- “Affirmative action isn’t just about reconciling past injustices, the future of leadership depends on educating minorities; the doors of opportunity must seem open and be accessible for all.”
– Virginia A. Cumberbatch