#BlackandSTEM, SCOTUS and Affirmative Action

On Wednesday December 10, 2015, the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) gave its oral arguments for the Fisher v. University of Texas – Austin case. For those not familiar with the case, Abigail Fisher was denied admission to the University of Texas Austin, despite being a legacy. Because she felt that she was prime candidate for admission, yet was not admitted into her top choice school, she highlighted affirmative action as the reason she was not accepted. Essentially that some minority who is less qualified and less deserving by default  was giving admission and “stole” her spot away from her. She went further with this argument by suing saying that UT Austin considering race in its admission criteria is unconstitutional.

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If the entire basis of this case isn’t insulting enough, the SCOTUS decided to take the case AGAIN after looking at Affirmative Action in 2013 and sending it back to appeals court for further review. This implies that they likely want at severely limit affirmative action in higher ed and at worst get rid of it completely.

The fact that the SCOTUS even decided to hear this case has me irritated.

To add insult to injury, during the oral arguments Justice Scalia, using this provided brief as basis, said things like:

“There are those who contend that it does not benefit African-Americans to get them into the University of Texas, where they do not do well,as opposed to having them go to a less-advanced school … a slower-track school where they do well.”

“Most of the black scientists in this country do not come from the most advanced schools,”

“Most of the black scientists in this country don’t come from schools like the University of Texas.They come from lesser schools where they do not feel that … they’re being pushed ahead in classes that are too fast for them,”

“I don’t think it stands to reason that it’s a good thing for the University of Texas to admit as many blacks as possible,”
“They’re being pushed into schools that are too advanced for them,”

The name for this general argument is the mismatch theory. This brief was used despite the fact that there was another brief submitted to the court that highlight the flaws of this theory.

During my time in higher education I have been admitted to 4 institutions 2 undergrad and 2 graduate. Abigail Fisher, Scalia and Roberts are implying that not only did i not earn those spots at those schools, I ousted a more deserving white student too. I was behind all of my peers the entire time and didn’t do very well. Yet I have completed a bachelors degree, a masters degree and am working on my PhD all in science fields. Doesn’t matter that  I could get glowing recommendations from a large number of my professors or that I did these at schools like or better than UT -Austin. Not that this matters. I could have gone to an HBCU and these points would still be valid. HBCU’s are not of less quality they just provide a much safer environment in which to grow. I digress. These 3 people are invalidating literally my entire life from 18-27. Affirmative action can’t explain away all of the success I have had in my life so #staymadabby.

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As an African American woman in higher education, I know all too well the prevalent idea  that many minorities are only in school because of Affirmative Action. Many of us feel the weight of having to perform levels above our peers in order for our presence not to be questioned. Our mistakes are weighed more heavily by our advisers and supervisors in comparison to our white peers. We put increased pressure on ourselves to be perfect. We suffer from higher rates of impostor syndrome, anxiety and depression in a field that already has a high mental health cost because we are told over and over again both subliminally and in cases like Justice Scalia boldly that we are not equal. Our mental capacities are somehow more limited than everybody else’s.

Add on top of this, the fact that Scalia felt the need to target black scientists in particular with his statements… It’s really hard for me to not be angry. I started this blog to be able to talk about science because I think it’s awesome. I have a passion for it. Science is my life. I also started this blog to counteract a pervasive idea in the sciences that science is free of racial bias, sexism and prejudice. Ideas that promote the idea that science is colorblind and as a scientist you have to removed yourself from part of your identity ( In my case a black woman) in order to do science properly.

Justice Scalia’s  comments are actually a perfect example to pinpoint the fallacy of such an idea that science is pure. These men sit on the highest court of out country and hold these ideas. Can the scientific community really make the argument that no one else in our community feels the same way? That when I present my research at the conference they aren’t questioning my ability as a scientist because of the color of my skin or the gender that I identify with? Is it possible some of professors may have graded me more harshly, inherently looked for more flaws in my questions because they expected me to be wrong anyway? How can we not, as a community that values evidence and critical thinking not make this connection? Why are we not making more efforts to fight against these stereotypes? Why is it acceptable for us to essentially stick our heads into the ground and pretend this things are not happening in our community?  It is both frustrating and maddening.

At a time when, black and other minority students and professors already feel persecuted and isolated on predominately white campuses, this case and the related comments do nothing to mitigate those feelings. Students and faculty of color are literally crying out for an increase of diversity in these spaces and the SCOTUS is essentially trying to make the argument that isn’t warranted or necessary. This is the epitome of out of touch.

The science community continues to make the  argument that we lack diversity because it is a pipeline issue. We simply are not recruiting enough diversity into the field. Meanwhile studies are showing that women and POC are leaving the sciences specifically within academia at a higher rate than their peers. I have no doubt that this is be cause of hostile work environments and lack of the critical support needed to survive. I personally have desire to remain in academia based on my experiences as a PhD student.

I say all of this to say that we as scientists really need to look within ourselves on this issue. This should be a wake up call to my white peers and faculty to check themselves. This should either make you aware or remind you that your black peers need your help to make things better. How many of you have reached out your black peers today to check-in with them today? During the University of Missouri protests and subsequent protests across the county? If you want do better, if you want to make a difference, START there and keep pushing forward.We cannot pretend that issues do not exist within our ranks. Our research is better when we have a diverse group of people working. We need to remember, hold on to and push for that.

 

Side note: If you are a #blackandSTEM graduate student or are considering being one, please take care of yourself in this climate.  Find the support you need to survive. DM me on twitter, email me, reach out if you need.

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