When I was a junior in college, I attended a Greek Life workshop with a few fraternity brothers of mine as well as representatives from every other Greek lettered organization on campus. It was an interesting workshop; there were large photos of famous, groundbreaking leaders from many different but equally important walks of life. The workshop facilitator, a middle aged, upbeat motivational speaker kind of guy, asked all undergrads in the room (about 50 of us, at least) to go around the room and write down comments about each of these leaders of their professions. After about 15 minutes, the workshop host then asked students to volunteer to pick a leader, say what they knew about this leader, read off the comments anonymously written by people in the room, and say whether you agreed or disagreed with said comments.
During the first phase of the workshop I immediately spotted Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor. I wrote a few positive comments on the posterboard next to her photo, and went on to Bill Gates’ posterboard, that of Oprah Winfrey, etc. During the second phase, I gravitated back to Justice Sotomayor’s photo and read the comments attributed to her. There were some positive comments, including my own, but they were outnumbered by many negative comments about her. She had recently been appointed to her position as Supreme Court Justice and her name and image had been circulating in the news, mostly via smear campaigns in order to sabotage her appointment as a Supreme Court Justice. Sadly, many students believed what they had heard on the news about her, and as a result posted comments like “Underqualified” and “Too Liberal” on her comment section. Most, if not all of these comments were short, vague, and ultimately baseless and void of any fact. She is one of my personal heroines, so I was not happy about this.
I volunteered to read off the comments and tell everyone what I knew about her. I let off some fumes as professionally as I could. Most of my classmates in the workshop were surprised to learn that not only did she go to my high school decades ago, but I had actually shook her hand myself at a career day event a few years back. More importantly, I took my time happily dismantling every negative comment that was attributed to her, tearing down every falsehood and half-truth with facts supported by evidence. My favorite part of my informative rant was when I took apart the ‘underqualified’ comment, refuting it with details about her education and how she had served on the U.S. Court of Appeals for quite some time before being nominated as a Supreme Court Justice, notably ruling on the 1994 Major League Baserball strike case. Ending my onslaught of corrections and highlights of Sotomayor’s career, I put the nail in the coffin with a personal challenge and said: “And if anyone who wrote these false comments or anyone who disagrees with me would like to prove me wrong at all, I invite you to try.” No one took me up on it.
Justice Sotomayor has been in the news recently for expressing her dissent on the ruling regarding Michigan’s affirmative action policy. The ruling upheld that affirmative action, currently banned in Michigan, could be successfully defended and remain banned by decision of a popular vote. The logic is a bit wishy washy, considering that affirmative action is designed to try and level the playing field for underpriveleged college hopefuls who are mostly minorities. Now, does it really make sense to leave this decision in the hands of a popular vote when the decision would be based on the majority vote, when those who would be most directly and negatively affected are minorities? This decision will potentially threaten affirmative action policies of other states, which is sure to have been a factor in determining the future of many lesser fortunate and/or minority students who would otherwise not be able to afford or even be given a chance at higher education due to economic or other social or circumstantial issues. If all goes horribly, affirmative action may be repealed in more homogenous, conservative states (where it is actually needed most) and will shut the door of a quality higher education experience on the next generation of high school grads. When you factor in the rate of arrests and imprisonment for petty crimes amongst black and brown teenagers, the perpetually dilapitated condition of inner city schools, and how both of these factors tie into the prison-industrial complex, the odds for more impoverished teens of getting into college are grim, specifically those in inner-city neighborhoods across the U.S.
This is especially disheartening to know as it stands, even with affirmative action in place. To eliminate affirmative action in college admissions offices would kind of be like running a basketball shot game at a carnival, giving the one kid with the worst shot an extra ball, and then taking it away just because you changed your mind. Picture that, but with the educational aspirations of kids who have been through some shit, and want a better life.
All in all I commend Justice Sotomayor for expressing her dissent. Given the fact that she is a minority from an impoverished area and had excellent grades as an adolescent and young adult, affirmative action may very well have played a factor in her education, as it probably did for my education, and many of my friends and family members. Quite contrary to conservative responses on her dissent, I feel that if she didn’t express her dissent for this decision she would be doing all potential college students a disservice. In a world where college tuition and debt is through the roof, the only worse fate than having a degree with no guarantee of finding the means to repay student loans and finding a job is the fate of not even having a fighting chance of getting into a good school after high school. Let’s face it, Generation Y is damned either way, but at least let us have an equal chance to be damned with an education under our belts than without. -RSM