Dear U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia,
I have been pondering your comments on the Fisher V. University of Texas case. And I have a few things to say to you.
My story did not start with a Facebook post garnering a few popular hashtags that filled my timeline the morning I wrote it. It started in March of 2008.
That is when I learned I was accepted into my “dream school” of Northwestern University. At the time, I was editor-in-chief of the oldest high school newspaper in Georgia, senior editor of the yearbook, a member of the varsity cheerleading squad, senior class secretary and held a 3.95 grade point average with multiple Advanced Placement classes.
But, that did not stop the whispers at my mostly upper class, white suburban Atlanta private school.
“How did she get in there?”
“She must know someone.”
I even had a friend’s mom come up to me and say, “Congratulations, Eryn! You’re so fortunate you can utilize affirmative action.”
Fortunate? Utilize affirmative action?
At 17-years-old, I barely knew what that was, but I knew those words did not apply to me. My hard work got me into my dream school and how dare someone try to minimize that. While most of my friends were spending summers at their beach and lake houses, I was at journalism camp, every single summer of high school.
While they were using our off-campus free period to go to the nearby park and smoke weed, I was in the library doing homework. That is why when college decision letters were released, I turned down the other seven universities I applied to and was accepted to attend, to choose Northwestern. I turned down full rides and competitive honor programs for a school where I knew that I belonged.
Going to the Medill School of Journalism was the dream of my 8-year-old self — one that I tirelessly made sure came true. So, the minute I stepped on Northwestern’s campus in September of 2008, I made it count.
“I even had a friend’s mom come up to me and say, ‘Congratulations, Eryn! You’re so fortunate you can utilize affirmative action.'”
Northwestern is ranked the 12th best university in the nation. Spend just a week on campus, and you’ll see why. The university is on a quarter system, so it’s already more fast-paced than semester-based schools. Four to five classes a quarter isn’t uncommon. But, students were also involved in Greek life, Division 1 athletics, student clubs, all while many were also working 20 or more hours a week. I saw my friends do it. I did it.
We made it work, and we excelled.
I graduated from the Accelerated Master’s Program at Northwestern in June of 2012. I received both my bachelor and master’s degrees at the same time. I finished graduate school with a 3.8 GPA. I was president of student chapters of two national organizations, including my sorority, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. I held a work-study job. I was also a part of the school’s more than a century old honor society of some of the top seniors in the graduating class. And, I left my “dream school” with my “dream job” of being a television reporter.
Some may say my success is an oddity. But, that wasn’t my experience. All of my minority friends at Northwestern had similar stories. All of my black and brown friends graduated on time, but many of them graduated early. Whereas, some of my friends at what you call “less-advanced” institutions took longer.
My pledge daughter in my sorority graduated with nearly a 4.0 and was selected to be a Fulbright Scholar. Other classmates went on to top law schools and med schools or started working for Fortune 500 companies in leadership roles.
However, the success of my minority friends was not limited to Northwestern. I also had close friends at Stanford, Harvard, Yale and Vanderbilt universities, and the list continues. My boyfriend played Division 1 football in the SEC, pledged a historically black fraternity, graduated from Vanderbilt’s Engineering school on the SEC Academic Honor Roll, and was hired by a major consulting firm.
Stories like that are endless from my friends who chose to go to “elite” universities. These were students who excelled in high school to come to college and continue on that same path. Yes, we all struggled, but every single one of us belonged at the “elite” university we chose.
Affirmative action is at the attention of the Supreme Court because of a white student, Abigail Fisher, who claims she was discriminated against during the college admissions process because of her race. When in actuality, the University of Texas, where she applied, has said she would not have been admitted regardless.
“The elite universities chose us simply because we were qualified, and they knew we would succeed.”
During oral arguments for her case, Justice Scalia, you said, “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 less… a slower-track school where they do well.”
He is referring to the “mismatch theory.” Proponents of this theory, in the realm of academia, state that affirmative action admits minority students who are unprepared in comparison to their “higher-performing white peers” for the rigor of certain course-work rather than thriving at different schools.
My friends and I probably would not have done better at a “lesser institution” that would have failed to mentally stimulate us and not fully exhaust our potential. The successful minority students I know chose these elite universities because of the challenging and demanding curriculum they knew they could handle. The elite universities chose us simply because we were qualified, and they knew we would succeed.
And, Justice Scalia, I am succeeding. I am a reporter for a CBS affiliate in a top 40 television market. I am a member of the board of directors for the local chapter of Big Brothers Big Sisters, and I am active with my sorority and the National Association of Black Journalists.
So, no Justice Scalia, we weren’t meeting some quota. We belonged there.
Eryn Rogers is an Emmy-award winning journalist. She is the morning reporter at WSPA-TV in Greenville, SC. She has also worked in Topeka, KS and Fort Wayne, Ind. She is a native of Atlanta and graduated from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University.