Profs. respond to Justice Scalia: white students ‘overrepresented’

Professors identified as “professional physicists and astrophysicists” are sending a letter to Supreme Court Justices to condemn arguments made by Justice Antonin Scalia and Chief Justice John Roberts in the case of Fisher v. University of Texas.

Plaintiff Abigail Noel Fisher filed suit in 2008 after she was allegedly denied admission to the University of Texas based on her race. Fisher, a white woman, claims she was rejected because of the university’s diversity policy, which upholds affirmative action.

In the latest round of hearings, Scalia questioned the value of affirmative action and suggested it may be a disadvantage to students of color to be placed at a school that is too competitive for their academic abilities.

“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 slower-track school where they do well,” Scalia said.

With a similar argument, Roberts questioned the uniqueness of a minority’s input in STEM courses.

“What unique perspective does a minority student bring to the physics class?” Roberts asked. “What are the benefits of diversity…in that situation?”

In response, a group of scholars identifying themselves as members of the “Equity and Inclusion in Physics and Astronomy Facebook group” drafted a letter to Scalia and Roberts.

The writers of the letter intended to “repudiate the line of questioning from Justice Antonin Scalia” and “address the question from Chief Justice John Roberts.”

In the letter, the drafters seem to connect high dropout rates among minority students to unbalanced campus demographics, claiming that white students are “overrepresented.”

“The experience of a minority student in STEM is often much different from that of a white student in STEM,” the letter states. “Minority students attending primarily white institutions commonly face racism, biases, and a lack of mentoring. Meanwhile, white students unfairly benefit psychologically from being overrepresented. We argue that it is the social experience of minority students that is more likely to make them drop out, rather than a lack of ability.”

The writers of the letter go on to offer their perspective on “majority-white” classrooms and explain the difficulties of being a minority student in such an environment.

“This is what we see when we look at a minority student in a majority-white physics class: determination and an ability to overcome obstacles and work hard in stressful environments. We see this because we know that many students from minority backgrounds are subjected to social and political stress from institutionalized racism (past and present), a history of economic oppression, and societal abuse from both micro-aggressions and subtle racism.”

To “address the question from Chief Justice John Roberts,” the writers of the letter “reject the premise that the presence of minority students and the existence of diversity need to be justified.” Rather, the writers “embrace the assumption that minority physics students are brilliant.”

The writers identify themselves as “professional physicists and astrophysicists” in the opening remarks of their letter. However, there is no clear indication as to what many of these professors teach since many of their signatures were left without a department name. In addition, some of the signees indicate they teach in the social sciences rather than physics.

The signees claim the letter currently has 2200 signatures and was to be sent to the Supreme Court Justices on Dec. 14.

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