A veteran of race-based preference fight voices support for Texan
By Evan Lips | December 21, 2015, 18:55 EST
WASHINGTON – Jennifer Gratz said Monday she hopes that Abigail Fisher, a Texan whose case against a race-based university admission policy has been taken up by the U.S. Supreme Court, will keep refusing to buckle against the weight of liberal backlash.
“It’s almost becoming less about Abbie (Fisher) and more about trying to intimidate others like her from speaking out,” Gratz, who successfully fought race-based admission in her native state of Michigan, said in an interview from Florida. If it succeeds, Fisher’s lawsuit against the University of Texas at Austin could determine the future of affirmative action at public colleges.
As Fisher’s case reached the highest court in the land, schools far and wide, including several in Massachusetts, began piling on, paying lawyers unknown sums of money to help defend the Texas school’s affirmative action policies. The court docket shows that lawyers have chimed in representing Harvard University, Tufts University, Amherst, Hampshire, Mt. Holyoke, Simmons, Smith, Wellesley and Williams colleges, in addition to Harvard Law School Dean Martha Minow. And that’s just the Bay State contingent out of many powerful institutions fighting Fisher. Gratz may be the only other woman in America who can truly relate to her situation.
She too once faced similar odds.
In 1995, Gratz, who is white, blamed the implementation of race-based admission policies at the University of Michigan for putting her on the school’s wait-list even as it admitted less-qualified minority students. Gratz had a 3.8 grade-point average and argued that the university’s evaluation system unfairly discriminated against her in favor of minority applicants.
Under a 150-point system, 100 points were required to guarantee admission to the state-run school. At the time when Gratz applied, the school followed a policy that awarded minorities an automatic 20 points just for applying. A perfect Scholastic Aptitude Test, or SAT, score, by comparison, was worth only 12 points.
In 1997, Gratz sued the school, claiming she had been discriminated against. Her lawsuit, like Fisher’s, eventually reached the nation’s highest court. In 2003, the court ruled 6-3 that the university’s affirmative action admission policy was unconstitutional and struck it down. However, it upheld the use of affirmative action by the law school.
Gratz later helped lead a movement that put the issue into the hands of Michigan voters as a ballot initiative. In 2006, nearly 60 percent supported banning affirmative action in admissions. The Supreme Court in April 2014 upheld the voters’ decision in a 6-2 ruling, spelling an end to the state’s practice of granting preferential treatment based on race, gender, ethnicity or nationality.
As Fisher’s challenge to similar policies at the University of Texas has entered the headlines, Gratz has watched the vilification of the plaintiff from afar.
“Abigail Fisher deserves an ‘F’ for her race-baiting Supreme Court case aimed at boosting subpar white students,” declared a Salon.com headline on what appears to be a conventional report and not an editorial that the website published earlier this month.
“Abigail Fisher needs to get on with her life,” Houston Chronicle columnist Lisa Falkenberg wrote last August in an opinion piece.
Fisher, who graduated from a suburban Houston high school with a 3.59 grade-point average albeit with a mediocre 1,180 SAT score, eventually enrolled at Louisiana State University and graduated in 2012.
Like Gratz, who attended the University of Michigan-Dearborn, not the Ann Arbor-based school that put her on its wait list, Fisher did not drop her lawsuit against the discriminatory policy she encountered.
Yet unlike Gratz, Fisher’s case has not only attracted media attention, but also social-media trolls.
“Social media wasn’t really around during my case and the 2006 vote,” Gratz noted. “But it looks like it’s making everything a little worse for her.”
— ALEA (@eyeamsincere) Dec. 12, 2015
It was last week when the Twitter hashtag #StayMadAbby took off, just as another round of discussions on the issue began at the Supreme Court. The hashtag grew from a trend to a phenomenon. A massive piling-on ensued. Fisher was accused of being everything from a race-baiter and a poster child of white entitlement to merely a poor student.
But Fisher doesn’t appear to have a Twitter account. The only one bearing her name appears to be satirical, Stay Mad Abby.
Gratz said her chief concern is what effect that the avalanche of online public mockery and intimidation may have on the next person who dares to challenge race-based preferences.
“The issue has become less about promoting diversity and more about trying to intimidate others you don’t agree with,” she said. “Now you’ve got people calling her names and ripping her to shreds.”
Gratz added that she sees a lot of irony in the way people are reacting to Fisher and her lawsuit and the way media outlets are covering it.
“Let me get this straight – people are going after her in the name of diversity,” Gratz noted. “So what about diversity of thought? There doesn’t appear to be any.”
Gratz pointed out that while she never had to deal with the fevered scrutiny of a social-media mob, she did receive her fair share of abuse during the 2006 ballot initiative campaign in Michigan.
“I got spit on once,” Gratz said. “People said awful things to me.”
Given the chance, however, Gratz said she’d “do it all over again” when asked about her court and campaign battles.
These days, however, she’s staying out of the limelight.
An organization she launched named the XIV Foundation, dedicated to promoting the 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause, is currently on hiatus. Gratz said she had to turn her attention away and “take a few steps back” to help care for her brother, who is battling cancer.
The organization, according to its mission statement, is also dedicated to “telling the untold stories of those who are harmed by race-based policies.”
Gratz said she plans to resume her activism.
On Monday one of her most recent initiatives marked a two-year anniversary of sorts. In October 2013, Gratz was invited to Ann Arbor by the University of Michigan’s student chapter of the Young Americans for Liberty, a national collegiate organization dedicated to defending individual rights to life, property and freedoms granted by the Constitution, to lead a presentation entitled “Diversity in Race vs. Diversity in Ideas: The Michigan Affirmative Action Debate.”
The Young Americans for Liberty, however, were denied $1,000 from a student activities fund to cover the costs of the event. School officials said using the fund for political events wasn’t permitted.
A couple of months later, on Dec. 21 of that year, the youth organization sued the university. About six months later, the group won a settlement in which the school agreed to fork over $5,000 in damages and $9,000 to cover legal costs.
“What it showed me is that the University of Michigan still doesn’t recognize diversity in thought,” Gratz said. “They paid for all of those court cases to fight it.”