WASHINGTON — Diversity was the message on the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court Wednesday as hundreds gathered outside for the proceedings of Fisher v. University of Texas, which could have lasting implications on how affirmative action is used in college admissions.
About 200 people waited in line to watch the argument from inside the court, some even camping out overnight to ensure their spots. Others gathered on the steps outside to voice their opinions on the case, a majority in support of upholding affirmative action, and a select few in opposition to the policy.
The National Action Network and the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights joined forces to host a rally on the steps of the Supreme Court in support of the University of Texas. The rally included speakers from a variety of universities and organizations, including the University of Texas and the NAACP.
About 250 people came to the rally in support of the University of Texas. Many held signs with slogans like ‘One of Many, One America,’ ‘Expand Opportunity,’ and ‘Diversity Works,’ while chants of “Can’t stop, won’t stop” echoed throughout the crowd.
Prominent speakers included Rev. Al Sharpton and Rev. Jesse Jackson, two well-known civil rights leaders. The pair spoke to the crowd briefly after the oral arguments, both stressing the importance of diversity in undergraduate education and praising the students who came to support affirmative action.
In a press statement, Jackson said he believes the prosecuting side did not present a strong case and failed to show injury to Abigail Fisher, the woman who was denied admission to the University of Texas and subsequently sued the university for unfair admission policies.
Sharpton spoke at the event about the broader importance of diversity and how it is important to ensure that today’s universities reflect the demographics of modern America.
“There are no victims when you have racial diversity,” Sharpton said. “There are only victims when you stop racial diversity … We are fighting for the inclusion of all, and that is what this case is all about.”
Accompanied by University of Texas student Joshua Tang, Sharpton concluded his address by leading the audience in a back and forth chant of the end of the Pledge of Allegiance and the phrase “Forward ever, backward never.”
Many students participated in the rally, including high school students from the Washington, D.C. area and college students from Georgetown University, Howard University, the University of Texas, Western Michigan University and Wayne State University.
Tabrien Joe, a freshman at Western Michigan University, spoke at the rally with the Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, Integration, and Immigrant Rights and Fight for Equality By Any Means Necessary, a Michigan-based organization. Joe spoke to the crowd about the importance of student activism.
“I think the people that heard me today understand that it takes two to fight,” Joe said. “In 2003, with the case at the University of Michigan,(BAMN) organized 60,000 students and they marched and the Supreme Court ruled in our favor and I think we can do that again.”
Kate Stenvig, a University alum and the BAMN college organizer, said she came to the event with six other members of the organization to watch the case and show their commitment to furthering affirmative action.
“I think students from Michigan lead the fight to defend affirmative action,” Stenvig said. “I think the same thing is true today, whatever the outcome of the legal case is we are going to continue to fight in the court and to build a new civil rights movement.”
Though the majority of people gathered at the Supreme Court were in support of the University of Texas, supporters of Abigail Fisher also rallied in opposition to affirmative action.
Frank Lukas, a graduate of the University of Maryland Law School and the father of two children who went through the college admissions process, came to the court bearing signs questioning the effectiveness and constitutionality of affirmative action. He was joined by D.A. Hess, a local resident who supported Lukas’s cause.
“I’m just a person in favor of real fairness,” Hess said. “I just think we need to live in a world where people are judged by their merits and not the color of their skin.”
Lukas said he feels strongly about ending affirmative action because he believes it negatively impacted his daughter’s college admission.
“My daughter had a 750 on each of the three sections of her SAT Is and her SAT II, and was rejected by every Ivy League,” Lukas said. “She was number one in her class. She was valedictorian, and I don’t want to say that other people who were less qualified got in, but people who were less qualified got in.”
Lukas said his daughter ended up graduating from a public college in 2008 and is now applying to medical school, adding that he is concerned about her application process because the schools she applied to have all use affirmative action in the admissions process.
Hess echoed Lukas’s sentiments and said he is particularly bothered by affirmative action in medical programs because it could mean less qualified doctors are practicing.
“Your mother could be on the hospital bed dying of cancer, and the person who is there trying to save her life could be a person who did not get there based on their merit, and that scares me,” Hess said.
Lukas and Hess appeared to be the only attendees in opposition of affirmative action on the steps of the Supreme Court, and according to Lukas, who came protest against Grutter v. Bollinger and Gratz v. Bollinger in 2003, the turn out for those in favor of ending affirmative action was not much different.
“I’m just here because I have the signs from a decade ago and thought I’d use them again,” Lukas said.