Corsicana Daily Sun, Corsicana, Texas

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October 13, 2012

Corsicana man gets front seat for history

Corsicana — A Corsicana High School graduate, Class of ‘09, was flown to Washington D.C. this past week to testify before the U.S. Supreme Court, and although he didn’t get to take the podium, it was still an exciting trip for him.

Michael Williams, 22, is a fourth-year student at the University of Texas-Austin studying sociology and education with minors in psychology and business. He was part of the NAACP’s contingent of six UT students in DC this past week because of his success at the university, and his support for affirmative action as part of the admissions process.

The case, which could affect college admissions processes in every state, is Fisher v. The University of Texas at Austin. At issue is whether or not a college can include the issue of race in admissions. Abigail Fisher, a white girl who was not in the top 10 percent of her class, and who did not get into the school, sued UT, arguing she was unfairly discriminated against because the school uses race as one factor in non-top-10 percent admissions. The case was argued in front of the Supreme Court on Wednesday. A decision should be handed down sometime before next summer. More than 90 amicus curiae briefs were filed on behalf of interested third parties.

Williams didn’t get to testify because his situation is so different from Fisher’s. He’s African–American who graduated in the top 10 percent of his class from an economically disadvantaged home.

“My initial reaction was ‘Oh, I’d love to go,” Williams said Friday in a telephone interview after he had returned to Austin. “I didn’t testify. Fisher applied in 2008. I applied in 2009. It wasn’t the same. I don’t think any students from UT testified at the Supreme Court level.”

Nor did he get to see the arguments, since it would have meant getting up very early, around 2 a.m., to get into the courtroom. Instead, he and the other students spent the day with the NAACP Legal Defense Fund lawyers, reading up on Fisher and following the case from outside, even doing interviews with the press.

“However, standing basically elbow to elbow with Abigail Fisher was a powerful moment,” he said.

He stood there looking at her surrounded by press from around the country, and thought: “All this is because of you. Understanding where she’s coming from, but at the same time thinking from the outside, ‘You’re going down in history, whether you win or lose, your name will always be in the history books as one of the biggest cases in admissions processes for many years to come.’”

Currently, 75 percent of the freshmen admitted to UT are there because they graduated in the top 10 percent of their classes. The other 25 percent were admitted under the college’s diversity program, designed to admit foreign students, out-of-state students, and minorities, Williams explained. The university has called it a “holistic” approach to finding the right mix of students. Williams supports the university’s stance.

“Thirty-five thousand people applied to the school last year, and only 11,000 were accepted,” he said. “It’s just, like, what do you do with the other 24,000? There’s not enough spots available. With that understanding, I’m behind the university when it comes to their holistic review process and how they look at many factors. Race is just one of the many factors. It doesn’t determine that someone gets into the university because of the color of their skin.”

Williams originally wanted to go to the UT business school, but last year he changed his major to education. “For me, my talent is education. I’m very sure of that now,” he said.

His plans are to graduate in spring 2014 and pursue his doctorate in education management or policy at Stanford or Harvard. His whirlwind trip to D.C. didn’t leave Williams much time to see the city, so he’s going to seek an internship to work in the capital for a semester. He studied last summer in London, and intends to apply to graduate school at Harvard or Stanford.

“I’m going to shoot for the top,” he said.

What’s perhaps ironic is that the last time a Corsicana resident took up a public position on affirmative action at the University of Texas was 60 years ago in the case of Sweatt v. Painter, when Heman Sweatt tried to become the first African American to enter the UT law school.

Then-Texas Governor Beauford Jester, the only governor to have come from Corsicana, opposed integration. The decision was eventually made by the U.S. Supreme Court to end segregation of graduate schools in Texas, creating a precedence for Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kan., which desegregated all public schools in the nation.

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Janet Jacobs may be reached via e-mail at jjacobs@corsicanadailysun.com. Want to “sound off” to this article? E-mail: Soundoff@corsicanadailysun.com

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