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For UT Students, Fisher Ruling Marks End of Era

Since Abigail Fisher sued the University of Texas in 2008, nine classes have graduated from the university, their time on campus marked by debates surrounding affirmative action — a national issue that hit especially close to home.

Abigail Fisher, right, plaintiff in Fisher v. University of Texas, leaves the U.S. Supreme Court with Edward Blum of the Project on Fair Representation after oral arguments in the case, in Washington, D.C., Dec. 9, 2015.

Since Abigail Fisher sued the University of Texas in April 2008, nine classes have graduated, their time on campus marked by sometimes-emotional debates surrounding affirmative action — a national issue brought especially close to home.

Thursday’s Supreme Court ruling upholding the school's use of race in some admission decisions marked a decisive victory for the university and affirmative action proponents, but students said campus conversations about diversity and admissions are far from settled.

At UT, where the student body is considered left leaning, reaction to the ruling was largely positive, according to students on both sides of the issue. Student body President Kevin Helgren issued a statement saying he was “beyond pleased” with the court’s ruling. The Black Student Alliance issued a statement supporting the ruling. Other students reflected on how the Fisher case — moving from the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals to the Supreme Court and back again from 2011 to 2016 — had shaped their academic and extracurricular experiences in college.

“In all the conversations and efforts regarding racial justice or social justice for marginalized communities, there was always this omnipresent feeling of the Fisher case just looming over our heads,” said Loyce Gayo, who graduated in May with a degree in African and African Diaspora Studies.

Though the in-court arguments unfolded far from Austin, UT students and alumni were actively involved in the legal fight. For Fisher’s first and second trips to the Supreme Court, a number of UT-affiliated groups filed amicus briefs supporting the university’s race-conscious admissions policies. The groups included more than a dozen former and recent student body presidents; “distinguished alumni” spanning decades of UT classes; and the Black Student Alliance, the Black Ex-Students of Texas and the NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund, Inc.

During oral arguments in both 2012 and 2015, groups of students traveled to the Supreme Court with the NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund. Christle Nwora, who graduated in May with a degree in humanities, attended the arguments in December 2015 as a senior, years after she had debated the case in a government class as a freshman.  

“For me it was an incredible time to be in one of those places where like, wow, history’s being made,” Nwora said.

Back on campus, students discussed the case in government classes and on social media, where the hashtag “#staymadabby” gained popularity after oral arguments in 2015. Nwora said the hashtag became popular among students of color as a way to convey pride in their accomplishments at UT.

Zachary Stone, who graduated in May from the Plan II Honors Program and served on the President’s Student Advisory Committee, said that the committee, composed of 12 students from different parts of campus, had been supportive of the university’s admissions policies and its legal battle to maintain the status quo. But he noted that because the university’s actions were largely in line with student opinion, debate on campus surrounding Fisher didn’t rise to the level of, say, the fury surrounding campus carry of handguns. 

Some students expressed disappointment with the court’s decision. Juan Ospina, a junior in the business school who is the social director for the College Republicans at Texas, said he considers the university’s race-conscious admissions unconstitutional.

“I’m opposed to these sort of programs, and I think they go against the constitution and the 14th amendment, which is equal protection under the law for everyone,” Ospina said. “I think it discriminates against certain other groups.”

Ospina also criticized the Top 10 Percent Rule, through which about 75 percent of each class is admitted because they rank near the top of their high school class, as unfair to students from high-performing high schools.

With the high court affirming the university’s right to take race into account in its holistic admissions decisions, the push to reform the Top 10 Percent Rule could gain momentum — Gov. Greg Abbott and UT System Chancellor Bill McRaven have called for a review. 

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