Discuss! What Abigail Fisher has in common with Mitt Romney

Abigail Fisher is a young white woman who was rejected admission by the University of Texas. Fisher decided this was because she was white, and the university’s diversity policy has put her at a disadvantage. She’s taken her case to the Supreme Court, which many people fear will use the case to end affirmative action.

This reminds me a lot of the Romney campaign, and apparently I’m not the only one:

That sense of entitlement is also at the heart of the Republican Party’s sour grapes about why they did not win the Presidential election. Some are saying that they lost because so many women and people of color came out to vote. But women and people of color are supposed to vote. I do not understand why instead of blaming the other or cheating, it does not occur to them to be a different sort of leader, one that appeals to all the people in this country.

The same article highlights what both Fisher and Romney did wrong by making an example of how Asian Americans deal with an unfair world. After asking how hard Fisher worked on her grades, did she get tutors, did she do extra curriculars, how many times did she take her admission tests, and so on and do forth:

In a way, that is what Asian Americans do, who realize the disadvantages of discrimination and the glass ceiling and try to compensate. (Then they are criticized for working the system.) I tell my children that if something is important, they should not hover on the borderline. If they really want something, they should make sure that they are solid. Otherwise there are no guarantees. They have each learned this lesson the hard way.

I look at Fisher and Romney, and I see two people who figured they could just coast through this thing to get where they wanted to be. Everything would be handed to them just for showing up. When it wasn’t, they immediately concluded the system had broken down because it hadn’t served them.

You can’t judge a system by how well you like the results. The simple fact is that in this recession, cheaper schools are filling up faster than ever because fewer people can afford the pricey ones. Getting into state schools isn’t the no-brainer it used to be. Fisher failed to learn about this reality and prepare herself for it.

And Romney’s campaign failed because he focused on raising enormous sums for the campaign instead of actually focusing on the campaign and shaping it into a winning strategy.

For all their talk of minorities “playing the race card”, it’s usually white people who leap erroneously to the assumption their skin color is being held against them. Fisher was a mediocre student, and Romney ran a mediocre campaign. Shame on anyone who blames their failures on anything else.

Comments

  1. Marie says

    It’s also worth noting that Fisher is a legacy, yet she has no interest in challenging that aspect of admissions. Yet another similarity to Romney…

  2. says

    Marie,

    Good point. I wasn’t a legacy, so I’m not familiar with the concept in great detail. But since most families (particularly privileged white ones) are of one race, wouldn’t the legacy produce very similar results to a racial quota – or a simple spoken or unspoken racial preference within the school? And since whites have had the best access to education for all these years, it would certainly tend to favor whites.

  3. Gabriella says

    So… she chose not to wok her ass off, when she got passed over in favour of someone who DID she decided it was because of discrimination and not, oh, I dunno, laziness born of privlidge?

    Incidentally, how are admissions chosen for US universities? Because as far as I know, for Australian permanant residents/citizens at least, it goes solely on marks. (In WA, usually by your TER/Tertiary Extrance Examination mark.) If there’s 100 positions for x course in y university, the applications with the top 100 marks get in, regardless of race, gender etc. Its flawed, but I don’t see it working any other way.

  4. Cheryl says

    I sincerely hope she loses. She’s sorely overdue for getting her head out of the land of unicorns and rainbows and tuning into reality. I understand the crushing disappointment of wanting something for years, so badly you can almost taste it and not getting it. I understand working hard to achieve what you want and not getting it. As much as that seriously sucks, that is life. You can’t always have what you want. You can’t always be what you want. You can work your ass off, have a minor nervous breakdown because of how hard you’ve driven yourself, and end up empty handed. Life’s a bitch that way. What you do when Plan A falls through is have a cry to get it out of your system, then get down to the business of looking at why Plan A failed, addressing the weaknesses that caused Plan A to fail, and considering your other option(s).

    Reading up on Abigail Fisher, I learned that U of T automatically admits applicants who are in the top 10% of their class. Abigail wasn’t. You need at least a 1200 on the SAT. Abigail didn’t have that. I’ve been in that kind of situation, wanting to transfer to Cornell from where I was doing my AAS but not having a high enough GPA to be considered, and I know how frustrating and disappointing it is, but when I faced it, I didn’t pitch a fit and scream discrimination, I scowled and grumbled about how much it sucked I’d worked my ass off and fallen so far short of the GPA cut-off (I had a 3.29 and you needed a 3.6 to be considered), and once I had that off my chest, I got on with my life because things suck like that sometimes. Sometimes, your best just isn’t good enough. You can’t be anything you want and hard work isn’t a guarantee of success.

    The U of T’s academic standards inherently favor White students (whether they intend it that way or not), which makes me want to bitchslap some sense into Little Miss Entitlement just that much more.

  5. Cheryl says

    Others have said Little Miss Entitlement didn’t work as hard as she could have, and maybe that’s true (haven’t read enough about her yet to say one way or the other). From her POV, she’s going to see it as she worked so very hard and was passed over, which is why I say that I know what it’s like to work hard for what you want and not get it. Unlike her, I’m not in denial when I say so.

    I can only roll my eyes that she’s whinging about how a degree from a ‘lesser’ school has hurt her chances in the job market. First, I think she’s giving the name on the degree WAY too much credit for her (lack of) success in the job market, and, second, if she thinks she’s been hindered in her job hunt so far, she’s about to learn just what it is to get nowhere. Who’s going to hire someone who sued a university for discrimination because she wasn’t admitted?

  6. says

    Gabriella, US admissions take into account grades, extracurricular activities, your essay about why you want to attend, anything else that makes you sound like a good citizen, and to some extent, race. I assume the reasons we don’t rely solely on grades/marks are because (a) not all schools are equal and (b) a lot of very worthwhile students don’t test well because academic testing just isn’t right for every brain type. So actually Fisher had numerous ways she could have impressed the school enough to get in, and she failed at every one.

    Cheryl, exactly. The thing about Affirmative Action is, it sounds to people like you’re forced to admit/hire X people from each race whether they’re competent or not. The truth is (a) there are plenty of competent kids from various races, so that’s really not an issue and (b) we only need Affirmative Action because for centuries people only admitted/hired white men whether they were competent or not. And lord, don’t we see the legacy of that? Can we all say “Wall Street”, children?

  7. Cheryl says

    Jennifer Kesler,

    Evette Dionne had this to say in her open letter to Ms. Entitlement:

    You are aware that the University of Texas at Austin uses two indexes, the Academic and the Personal Achievement, to determine admission for students. You know that the Academic Index combines grades and standardized test scores while the Personal Achievement Index considers the submitted essays along with extracurricular activities and special circumstance (which can include race). You have been told that these two scores are combined and plotted on a graph and that everyone above a certain combined score is admitted while everyone below is rejected.

    You also know that you fell below that line, along with more than 100 students who were denied admission. You’ve also read this statement from Gregory Garre, the University of Texas at Austin’s attorney:

    “Even if Abigail Fisher had received a perfect Personal Achievement Index score she would not have been admitted … because her Academic Index was simply not high enough. Fisher would not have been admitted, no matter what her race.”

    (Emphasis mine. Full letter here: http://www.clutchmagonline.com/2012/10/an-open-letter-to-abigail-fisher/)

  8. says

    Cheryl, that’s great. I do hope it influences the court, because most people are predicting that they will strike down affirmative action. The white dude with the swing vote thinks it’s unfair because apparently he doesn’t understand the historical context beyond 2010 or something. (Of course it’s unfair – it’s a counterbalance to something that was much more unfair. “Fair” would be for all schools to become equal, and all kids to suddenly have several generations of family that went to college themselves and knows how to help their kids get there. How can it not be obvious to anyone qualified for the Supreme Court that we can’t provide that, so we have to settle for another unfairness that counterbalances the first, and much graver, unfairness?

    (And if anyone tells me “two wrongs don’t make a right”, I’ll just remind them sometimes you’ve got to fight fire with fire. Cliches don’t apply in every situation. We wouldn’t train cops to kill killers when necessary if we didn’t fundamentally believe that sometimes a “wrong” is the only way to stop another wrong, when the ideal outcome (no killing at all) is already beyond achieving.)

  9. Marie says

    Jennifer Kesler,

    Yes, it relies entirely on whether a member of your family attended the school. The Michigan Daily’s article Admissions Nepotism has a good overview of how it relates to affirmative action. The short answer is even very liberal schools use it, U of M for example, and it doesn’t necessarily go away when affirmative action does, again, U of M is a good example.

    Apparently the connection has come up in Supreme Court cases before. I’ll be interested to see what, if anything, the court says about it now.

    @Cheryl

    Yeah, I was thinking the same thing. I didn’t get in to the most prestigious school I applied for — I knew with my test scores it was fairly unlikely that I would. It stung but after the initial burn my thoughts were ‘Well, I think the college got it right. Probably, I would have dropped/transferred in a semester anyways since course work might very well have been too hard for me.’. I wonder if Fisher would even have been successful if she attended Texas State.

  10. Cheryl says

    Jennifer Kesler,

    In an ideal world, we wouldn’t need affirmative action because all that would matter is if the applicant is qualified, regardless of race, color, creed, gender, etc. This isn’t an ideal world. It means that, perhaps, a qualified White applicant might not get in somewhere because of affirmative action, and all I have to say to that is if the White Boys Club hadn’t played so unfairly for so long and wasn’t still doing its best to keep playing it that way, affirmative action wouldn’t be necessary. Yes, it sucks to be barred because of your skin color. That’s just a very small taste of what non-Whites have faced every day for hundreds of years. If you hate it, then turn your fury to smashing racism and calling out those who discriminate because of race, color, creed, etc. and demand they start playing fair. That requires being aware of the Other and their situation and recognizing your own privlidge, two things most White Americans are blind to.

    Gabriella’s comment about how students are chosen for admission to Aussie universities not being fair got me thinking because I don’t see what’s unfair about it. Aren’t impartial criteria a good thing? Isn’t that what we want, a system that doesn’t consider gender, race, color, creed, etc.? I know there’s discrimination against Aboriginals in Australia and I’m sure they have the same kinds of problems that Blacks and Native Americans have here in the States, so the schools they attend aren’t going to be as good as the ones Whites attend and poverty, drug abuse, and alcohol abuse (among other problems) are going to be tall hurdles they have to get over in order to get ahead. As a result, there won’t be as many Aboriginals getting into university because they won’t have the marks. That means university admissions are going to be biased toward White students, which is definitely a problem, but the reason for that bias doesn’t lie in how kids are chosen for admission, it lies in the social and cultural challenges and problems faced by Aboriginals. Once those are dealt with (with actual efforts to bring things around, rather than empty promises and fine-sounding words), we’ll see the diversity of incoming freshman reflect the diversity of the general population. A lasting fix is going to take time–at least a generation, require action on multiple fronts, and require not a small amount of money to fund the efforts for change. That reality runs totally counter to the general public’s desire for fast, easy, cheap solutions, so it’s going to be an uphill battle.

  11. Cheryl says

    Marie,

    I honestly wonder if she’d have made it, too. With admissions criteria as high as U of T’s, the classes are going to be the kind that kick your butt without mercy and require serious dedication to your studies if you want to pass. 85th in your high school class is good, but what was advanced and accelerated there is going to be average and standard at U of T, and when those around you are from the top 10% of their class, the fact you’re from the top 20% means you’re on the back end of the bell curve now and you’ll be struggling to keep up and pass. I speak from experience on the whole ‘big fish in small pond gets her ass kicked in a bigger pond full of really smart fish’ thing. I transferred to Michigan State University in 2003 after finishing my AAS in Animal Management at a small community college in northern NY. My GPA there was 3.54. I’d been on the President’s and Dean’s Lists my whole time there and got a 4.0 my first semester. I’d earned an AAS in Veterinary Science a few years before that and if my grades had been better my first semester there, I’d have graduated with honors. I have above average intelligence, never studied for tests in high school, and my grades didn’t accurately reflect what I was capable of because I was forever forgetting to turn in or finish my homework (ADHD. Gotta love it). With my history, I didn’t forsee any problems making respectable grades at MSU. Oh, what a surprise I was in for! *weeps* That school totally kicked my ass and I never even saw it coming. I found out later the cream of the high school crop are accepted there, which explained why the classes came on hard and fast and left me begging for mercy. It was a very humbling experience.

    Miss Entitlement is better off with a good GPA at a ‘lesser’ school than a so-so or lousy GPA at U of T. The name on the degree is great, but a so-so GPA on your resume (when you’re first starting out and don’t have relevant work history/experience yet) is going to work against you. Appearances are everything when you’re selling yourself. Maybe the U of T is flashy enough to make up for a so-so GPA, but I’d prefer to list a great GPA at a school with a less flashy name.

  12. Gabriella says

    Cheryl,

    Cheryl, I think it’s *flawed* (didn’t say unfair) because there are ways of helping boost your TER (dunno if it’s called the same thing in the eastern states; I’m using WA terminology), ie, hiring tutors, buying old exams so you know the kind of thing they’ll be asking. Even which school you go to – there are a couple of public school so far down on the socioecomonic scale that they don’t do TEE stubjects/have a limited curriculum. All those advantages come down to having the money for these resources/knowing they’re available in the first place. So I think its flawed in the sense that its advantages towards people who have that money and knowledge of resources, but I think its very fair in the sense it’s based solely on your TER and gender/race/whatever doesn’t factor in.

  13. says

    Cheryl and Gabriella, I have a little input that might be relevant.

    I was accepted by both of my top university choices, including UCLA which was really hard to get into, especially for out of state students like me. So hard, in fact, that the first thing we did at orientation was sit through a lecture in which we were assured there hadn’t been a clerical error, we really had indeed been accepted to UCLA. (I didn’t even realize what a big deal it was, but talking to other kids after, I realized many really had doubted their admission was intentional!)

    So, why did this happen? It’s true I tested as a gifted kid, and I worked really hard. But there was something else. In the US, schools are typically funded by local taxes, so schools in more affluent areas get more funding. I lived on the edge of an affluent area and was able to transfer in because of my good grades, and it mushroomed from there. I got Duke University giving us PSATs (the real SAT, only it doesn’t count) from middle school forward – by the time I took the real thing, it was like an old, unintimidating friend. I got good teachers. I got good textbooks. I got pushed hard to take AP classes, and if I was struggling, there was help available at school, at no cost.

    My school was affluent with a huge majority of white kids. Race wasn’t the direct issue – it was rather an affluence imbalance that had roots in racial imbalance – but by addressing the race imbalance at the university level, you do create the correct effect. In short, you’re sort of faking fairness by having race quotas. But there’s more.

    Also worth mentioning: I had a black friend in high school who was the daughter of a professor at the local university. We shared an English teacher who would mark right answers as wrong on her papers, thus lowering her grades (I’m talking multiple choice, not essay questions – no subjectivity issues here). This teacher exhibited powerful racism in other ways, especially when we got to reading Huckleberry Finn (oy, that’s the shittiest – having a racist teach that book). So this poor girl had to get her mother to get her into a different class, to protect her GPA. What if the mother hadn’t been a professor? What if she’d been a janitor working hard to make sure her kid got a better career? Would the school have listened?

    So even when a child of color is able to attend the affluent schools, she may not get as much academic support as the white kids. And colleges need to be correcting for that shit too. I’m all for it, and if my friend had gotten into a college I didn’t, I’d have been SURE she earned it because she had to overcome obstacles I didn’t. (And I say this even though I had TWO teachers who harassed and hated on me throughout their years with me – one resented me for being smart, and said so, and the other had a grudge against my father and found it appropriate to take it out on me instead of him. It’s telling that as abusive and evil as both these teachers were, neither of them ever tried to falsify my grades… and this was elementary school, where it wouldn’t have mattered nearly as much as it does in high school. That’s white privilege – even when you get abuse, you have more options for getting past it.)

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