Last week, during the case Fisher v. University of Texas, Supreme Court Justice Scalia questioned the effectiveness of affirmative action by stating that African-American students do not do well in “advanced” schools. He said,
“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 less — a slower-track school where they do well.”
Justice Scalia’s words sicken me. In 2005, I was accepted to Cornell University. Despite paying my $500 deposit (no small thing for my family), I didn’t end up matriculating to Cornell for my undergraduate degree. I told my family and friends that the University of Texas (UT) offered me a last minute scholarship, and the deal was too good to pass up. In reality, I was scared. I was scared of failing at an Ivy League university, and I was scared of being discovered as a fraud. I felt that I wasn’t good enough to attend Cornell because of my background, my income, and my high school.
Even at UT, I felt like an imposter. I struggled to transition from high school, where I had only learned how to properly spell “college” in the 11th grade. I only succeeded at UT because I found amazing professors, adults, and mentors that believed in me. Had I been surrounded by naysayers like Scalia and Abigail Fisher, who would have seen my struggle as evidence of my unworthiness, I would probably have dropped out of UT. I would have become just another statistic for conservatives like Scalia to reference.
Research proves again and again that teacher expectations and perceptions of students impact academic performance. All too often, low and negative expectations are reserved for students of color. In their book, Creating the Opportunity to Learn: Moving from Research to Practice to Close the Achievement Gap, Wade Boykin and Pedro Noguera examined a study of approximately 1,900 elementary students from more than 80 classrooms and concluded that, “in race-heterogeneous classrooms, teacher expectations for Black and Latino students are substantially more negative than they are for White and Asian students, even though all student groups have comparable histories of achievement…Even more, the lower expectations for Black and Latino students are functionally linked to lower levels of reaching achievement at the end of the school year (Boykin & Noguera, 2011, p. 79–80).”
Scalia’s comments sicken me because 10 years ago, I probably would have believed him. I would have adjusted my college applications to fit the colleges and universities that he considers better options for a student like me. I wasn’t aware of the abundance of research illuminating the fact that students with educators that believe in them thrive in rigorous environments. Plenty of my teachers said I had no business applying to Ivy League schools- I didn’t need to hear it from a Supreme Court Justice as well. You should be ashamed of yourself, Justice Scalia. I hope that every student of color who hears of your hateful, bigoted comments has a sane adult in their life telling them that they are worthy.
Now, back to writing my dissertation so that I can graduate from Harvard University with my doctorate in education. I am worthy.