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Apr 30, 2016

Affirmative action: The price of admission

Co-produced with PRX Logo

The U.S. Supreme Court is about to make a decision that could affect college admissions across the country. And Texas’ Top 10 Percent Rule plays a starring role.

On this episode of Reveal, reporter Neena Satija tells us how an attempt to boost diversity in Texas colleges could, paradoxically, end affirmative action. She also takes a long look at the Top 10 Percent Rule and whether it gets students of different backgrounds to attend the state’s top public universities.

We’ll hear from two high-achieving young Texans: Genesis Morales and Grayson Rutherford. They’re college-bound students who attend high schools only 10 miles from one another but whose experiences are worlds apart.

We’ll also take you to Berkeley, California, and look at that school district’s integration plan. Over five decades, that plan has worked, for the most part – Berkeley’s kindergarten through eighth grade system is a model for the rest of the country on how to integrate schools. But the city’s single high school faces unexpected challenges.

Disclosure: The University of Texas at Austin and Texas A&M University have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.

DIG DEEPER

  • Read: The Texas Tribune’s series on the fight over the Top 10 Percent Rule
  • Interactive: Explore which public high schools send more of their students to UT Austin

Credits

The Texas Tribune's Price of Admission series was co-reported by Matthew Watkins.

Support for Reveal is provided by The Reva and David Logan Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and Mary and Steven Swig.

Track list:

  • Camerado-Lightning, “True Game (Reveal show theme)” (Cut-Off Man Records)
  • Michael Rother, “Flammende Herzen” from “Flammende Herzen” (Sky Records)
  • Jim Briggs, “Bolsa Bump” (Cut-Off Man Records)
  • Jim Briggs, “Racing to Nowhere” (Cut-Off Man Records)
  • Jim Briggs, “Racing to Nowhere” (Cut-Off Man Records)
  • Jim Briggs, “Baroquen” (Cut-Off Man Records)
  • Blue Dot Sessions, “Rafter” from “Speakeasy”
  • Blue Dot Sessions, “Cirrus” from “Cloudbreaker”
  • Blue Dot Sessions, “Cirrus” from “Cloudbreaker”
  • Ketsa, “Welcome Back” from “Changing Seasons” (Ketsa Music)
  • Aeroc, “If I Had the Time” from “R + B + ?” (Ghostly International)
  • Boards of Canada, “Dayvan Cowboy” from “The Campfire Headphase” (Warp Records)
  • YEYEY, “Tiptoe (Instrumental)” from “The Vision Instrumentals” (Needle Drop Co.)
  • Jim Briggs, “Roads Vamp” (Cut-Off Man Records)
  • Jim Briggs, “These Decisions” (Cut-Off Man Records)
  • Jim Briggs, “These Decisions Can't Wait” (Cut-Off Man Records)
  • Jim Briggs, “These Decisions Weigh on Us” (Cut-Off Man Records)
  • Jim Briggs, “These Things Take Time” (Cut-Off Man Records)
  • Jim Briggs, “These Decisions” (Cut-Off Man Records)
  • Jim Briggs, “Decision/Resolutions” (Cut-Off Man Records)
  • Jim Briggs, “Roads Vamp” (Cut-Off Man Records)
  • Liquid Liquid, “Eyes Sharp” from “Successive Reflexes” (99 Records)
  • Jim Briggs, “On My Own Time (solo version)” (Cut-Off Man Records)
  • Jim Briggs, “Sam's Groove” (Cut-Off Man Records)
  • Jim Briggs, “On My Own Time” (Cut-Off Man Records)
  • Jim Briggs, “Sam's Groove” (Cut-Off Man Records)
  • Jim Briggs, “On My Own Time (solo version)” (Cut-Off Man Records)
  • Jim Briggs, “Sam's Groove” (Cut-Off Man Records)

TRANSCRIPT:

Reveal transcripts are produced by a third-party transcription service and may contain errors. Please be aware that the official record for Reveal's radio stories is the audio.

Section 1 of 3          [00:00:00 - 00:14:05] (NOTE: speaker names may be different in each section)

Al:

From the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX, this is Reveal. I'm Al Letson. It's 2008. Senator Barack Obama is running for president. The song of the year is "Rehab" by Amy Winehouse, the country is in the throes of a financial crisis, and Abigail Fisher, a senior from the Houston Area, has just applied to the University of Texas at Austin. This seems pretty normal. Kids across the country are filling out applications. They have hopes and dreams of going to a specific college. Abigail is no different. Since she was a little kid, she had dreamed of going to UT Austin, one of the best schools in the Texas public university system. Her dad and her sister had both gone there. It's safe to say her family bled burnt orange, the school's colors. But, in Texas, there's a weird law related to college admissions-

Emily:

What's called the Top 10% Plan.

Al:

That's Emily Bazelon.

[00:01:00]
Emily:

 

I'm a staff writer at the New York Times Magazine.

Al:

She's going to help us tell the story. Emily also teaches law, which will come in handy later.

Emily:

A Truman Capote fellow for creative writing and law at Yale Law School. I always wonder if Truman Capote is rolling over in his grave.

Al:

Anyway, this law means that anyone who graduates in the top of their class in Texas automatically gets into any state university. It was set up to allow kids from poor schools in minority communities to get into good state colleges, but it can help white kids like Abigail, too. Her grades were decent. On a 4.0 scale-

Emily:

She had a 3.59 GPA.

Al:

But, they weren't great.

Emily:

She wasn't actually in the top 10% of her high school class, which means that she wasn't automatically granted admission to the University of Texas.

Al:

Abigail didn't give up. You see, UT Austin also has a little bit of room for kids who aren't in the top 10%. For those students, the university has what it calls a holistic admissions process, where they look at a lot of things.

[00:02:00]
Emily:

 

Like your character, your community service record, your essays.

Al:

SAT scores. Abigail got 1180 out of 1600. Again, good, not great.

Emily:

What kind of extracurricular activities you did, what kind of hardship you've suffered in your life.

Al:

You get the idea. Oh, and one more thing.

Emily:

Race is one among many.

Al:

Yeah. Race.

 

Now, we're not talking about quotas, here, the Supreme Court banned that in 1978, but schools can consider race as one of the many factors when deciding who gets in and who doesn't. We don't know how much weight the school gives to race in admissions, or how many kids get in because of their race, but when UT Austin sent Abigail Fisher a rejection letter, she said they discriminated against her because she's white.

Emily:

She says that she could have gotten in under this holistic admissions plan if race were not a factor in that plan, but UT says that's really not true, based on her other qualifications.

[00:03:00]
Al:

 

Abigail disagrees. She says other kids who didn't have her qualifications were admitted, and they were minorities. Now, around the time that UT turned Abigail down, there was a former stockbroker who was in the middle of a campaign to end affirmative action in college admissions. His name is Edward Blum.

Emily:

Edward Blum is a really determined conservative activist who has figured out how to use the courts to further or at least call a lot of public attention to his conservative agenda. He has been bringing cases that challenge affirmative action for years.

Al:

He's also a UT Austin alum, and he told us that in the '70s when he was in college, he wanted the school to admit more minorities.

Edward:

Groups of us would, we'd get together for a meeting, and then march over to the president's office and demand that the administration snap their fingers and create more African American students. Looking back, I think that's a fairly common road that 17-, 18-, and 19-year olds take.

[00:04:00]
Al:

 

Now in his 60s, Edward says he just doesn't think race should be a deciding factor in admissions. He decided to file a lawsuit against UT, but since he isn't a lawyer, he had to find one, and since he isn't a student, he had to get one of those too.

Edward:

Recruiting an 18-year-old who had just been rejected from the University of Texas is not an easy thing to do. One cannot take out ads in newspapers asking kids to contact you, so I did a handful of things. I started a website called UTNotFair.org, held a press conference announcing this when that website went up. The press conference detailed why I thought the re-introduction of race was unconstitutional and unfair and unnecessary.

Al:

Even with all the publicity, it took a while.

Edward:
[00:05:00]

I started basically making a big pest of myself, trying to find the right kid who had been denied admission to agree to be a plaintiff . It took about three years.

Al:

You can guess what happened next.

News Anchor:

Abigail Fisher is the challenger in the case. She says she was denied admission to UT Austin in 2008 because she's white.

Al:

Abigail Fisher and Edward Blum found each other. Abigail, this freckled, strawberry blonde, kind of shy teenager, started going on TV.

Abigail:

Hopefully this case will end racial classifications and preferences in admissions at the University of Texas.

Al:

Eventually, the case landed in the Supreme Court. Twice, actually. The first time, in 2013, the justices returned it to the lower court. Now, it's back.

Judge:

Bill, your argument this morning in Case #14981, Fisher v. The University of Texas at Austin.

Al:

[00:06:00]

This is from oral arguments in December. Abigail's lawyer, Bert Rein, made his case that Texas schools don't need to use affirmative action in admissions because they already have a way to increase diversity that doesn't rely on race. It's called the Top 10% Rule.

Burt:

The Top Ten Plan does not classify anybody by race. It creates geographic diversity, it looks all over Texas, it doesn't distinguish between high schools. It creates socioeconomic diversity.

Al:

The real fireworks came when Justice Antonin Scalia, the conservative beacon of the Court, said this:

Justice Scalia:

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.

Emily:

There was a lot of dismay in response to Justice Scalia's statement, and even when you read it now, it kind of makes the hair stand up on the back of my neck.

Al:

That's Emily Bazelon of the New York Times Magazine again.

Emily:
[00:07:00]

Because it's such a blanket statement about the capabilities of minority students. It doesn't leave any room for the many high-achieving black and Hispanic students who do incredibly well at elite universities.

Al:

Bottom line, Scalia was wrong. Minority students end up doing better at elite colleges. They're more likely to graduate from them and less likely to default on student loans. Part of the reason? Those schools offer more support.

Emily:

I teach at Yale Law School, and I always think of my students when I remember Justice Scalia's quote, because it just is so distant from my experience of working with them.

Al:

 

[00:08:00]

Justice Scalia died in February, before the case was decided. That left the Court with four conservatives and four liberals. A lot of controversial cases this year will end up in a split decision, but not this one. This case will be decided. That's because Justice Elena Kagan recused herself, since she had been involved with the suit before she joined the Supreme Court. Here's why everyone, not just the people in Texas, are paying a lot of attention to what happens:

Emily:

If it's a broad ruling, because UT is using race-based preference in such a limited and minor way, if what the University of Texas is doing isn't allowed, it's hard to imagine what kind of affirmative action that takes race into account would be allowed at a public university.

Al:

 

 

 

[00:09:00]

All affirmative action in college admissions could be banned nationwide. Not just in public universities; any school that takes federal money could be affected. One of the main arguments to ban affirmative action is because Texas, if you remember, has the Top 10% Rule that's supposed to help minorities get into elite public schools like UT Austin without taking race into account. A lot is riding on this Top 10% Rule, so we wanted to find out, is it working the way it's supposed to? We spent the past school year getting to know two young Texans. They both live and go to public school in the Dallas area.

Genesis:

My name's Genesis Morales, I'm a senior at Bryan Adams High School.

Al:

Genesis is the president of her student council, secretary of her school's National Honor Society chapter, helps out at her church, and does community service.

Genesis:

One thing that always was in the back of my head was becoming a teacher. I guess that passion kind of grew when my nephew was born, just because I saw him grow and I taught him things. It just made me realize that that's what I want to do for the rest of my life.

Al:

She lives in East Dallas. Her neighborhood's not in the worst part of town, but not the greatest, either. Her mom's a factory worker, and her dad's a landscaper. They came from Mexico.

Genesis:

My mom always explained to me that if she had the opportunity to go to college and get a better job so she doesn't have to be working in a factory all night long, she would.

Al:

Now, here's another young Texan. She goes to high school just ten miles away from Genesis.

[00:10:00]
Grayson:

 

My name is Grayson Rutherford, and I'm a senior at Highland Park High School.

Al:

Highland Park is a well-to-do community in the Dallas area.

Grayson:

My parents are divorced, so I live half the time in Lakewood and half the time in Highland Park, but essentially, I've been from Dallas my whole life.

Al:

Like Genesis, Grayson does a lot outside of class.

Grayson:

I started my own small business about a year and a half ago. It made me really interested in business, but at the same time, my entire life, I've been told, "You're destined to go to law school."

Al:

Both of these young women want to go to college to succeed, but they didn't grow up with the same opportunities. Grayson is white, along with most of her classmates. They go to one of the best public high schools in the country, in one of the wealthiest school districts. Genesis is Hispanic, along with most of her classmates. At her school, most of the students are on free or reduced-price lunch. The two young women go to school just ten miles apart from each other. They're a textbook example of the racial and economic segregation that affect whether many public high school students go on to college. The Texas Tribune's Neena Satija takes it from here.

[00:11:00]
Neena:

 

Genesis has long, brown hair, and big, serious eyes. The first time we met her, she wore her hair in a tight braid draped across her shoulder. In class, she participated in a small-group discussion with five other kids, and she wasn't shy.

Genesis:

When you think about it, usually people who have power are kind of living the easier life than the people who they employ.

Neena:

The group was talking about how you define people in power.

Genesis:

You're either born into having money and life is easy for you, or you're not, and you have to work your way up. Or, not even up. You just have to work your way.

Neena:

Genesis has thought a lot about this question. Her parents have worked hard their entire lives, but they haven't been able to work their way up.

Genesis:

 

[00:12:00]

Their world is so small, you know? It's still stuck with trying to get food on the table and just have a clean house and stuff like that. I really want to go to college and I want to have the best opportunities, and I want to have all the resources and scholarships that I can get.

Neena:

Growing up, Genesis had no idea what college really was. She only knew what she saw on TV.

Genesis:

Maybe, like, Full House.

Full House :

Hey, it's no big deal, it's just a test, right?

Genesis:

Because DJ would always talk about studying for the ACTs and stuff like that.

Full House :

Guys, I'd love to stay and chat, but my ACTs are tomorrow, remember? The test that determines what college I get into? If I don't nail this, I'm not going to go to Stanford!

 

Hey Kenny, where are you applying? Clown college?

 

We have to study.

Genesis:

I thought college was kind of that thing, it's only if you have money and you're really smart, you can go. To me, I felt like I couldn't fit that at the time.

Neena:

For most of her life, Genesis figured she would end up at community college. A lot of her classmates feel the same way. Most of their parents are immigrants who didn't go to college. Their only guide has been this woman.

[00:13:00]
Crystal:

 

All right! Junie got into West Texas A&M! Awesome!

Neena:

That's Crystal Morrow. Most people call her Coach because she coaches the volleyball team.

Crystal:

They're coming in, guys. I'm so excited.

Neena:

She's also a teacher who runs the school's college prep program.

Crystal:

I need to make a copy, but my copy machine's down. You're my first West Texas A&M, girl! Let me take a picture!

Student:

[Crosstalk 00:13:15] got into TWU!

Crystal:

Who got into TWU? Oh yeah! Come here so I can take a picture. Clarissa got into TWU! Woo! All right.

Neena:

Coach Morrow's face is almost always turned up in a big smile. Her blonde hair is cut in a bouncy bob. These kids getting into college means a lot to her.

Crystal:

Because you know, I don't have kids, so these are my kids. I grew up with them for the last four years.

Neena:

It's not just that they're getting into college, they're going to four-year colleges. Genesis didn't think that was possible until she met Coach Morrow.

Genesis:

[00:14:00]

She's doing all these things, and she still has time to text me back at 12 at night when I'm freaking out about scholarships. She tells me that I can call her and text her when I need her for anything. I love that woman.

Neena:

Coach Morrow convinces-

Section 1 of 3          [00:00:00 - 00:14:05]

Section 2 of 3          [00:14:00 - 00:28:05] (NOTE: speaker names may be different in each section)

Neena:

Coach Moreau convinces kids at Bryan Adams to apply to four year colleges. She takes them on college visits, and raises the money to pay for the trips. Now we're going to take you to another school, where most of the students are white. Highland Park High is just ten miles away, but it feels like a different world. It has a planetarium, indoor tennis courts.

Grayson:

I'm involved in a lot. I'm a fourth year varsity Letterman for the softball team.

Neena:

This is Grayson Rutherford. When we met, she was wearing her uniform from softball practice.

Grayson:

I'm the managing editor on my school's newspaper. I started the model UN chapter when I was a sophomore here, and I also started a young Democrats club when I was in tenth grade as well at Highland Park.

[00:15:00]
Neena:

 

Many of Grayson's activities at Highland Park High School aren't even offered at Bryan Adams.

Grayson:

Besides that, I'm in National Honors Society, National Social Studies Honor Society, National English Honors Society, all that. I'm in primarily TAG AP classes.

Neena:

Translation: AP stands for Advanced Placement, or college level courses, and TAG-

Grayson:

Tag is Talented and Gifted.

Neena:

Which means AP TAG is kind of like advanced advanced placement.

Grayson:

This year I'm taking AP economics, AP government, AP calculus, AP-

Neena:

Most of the students have had one goal in mind since they were little.

Grayson:

Definitely going to a good college. My dad went to Harvard, my cousin went to Harvard, my other cousin went to Princeton. My whole family really likes the college experience a lot.

Neena:
[00:16:00]

At mostly white Highland Park, parents pay out of pocket for the school to offer its own SAT prep course. At mostly Hispanic Bryan Adams, there is no course, and Genesis had to share one copy of the test prep book with her entire class. This is where that top 10% rule is supposed to give students like Genesis a boost. It started on the floor of the Texas house almost twenty years ago.

Irma:

[inaudible 00:16:16] speaker members. House bill 588 is an educational bill.

Neena:

That's democratic law maker Irma Rangel, introducing the top 10% bill back in 1997. Texas had just banned affirmative action in college admissions a year earlier. Rangel was not happy about this, but she decided to use it as an opportunity. She said forget affirmative action.

Irma:

I don't believe in quotas, especially some of the quotas that have been exercised in the past.

Neena:
[00:17:00]

She came up with a different way to give minority students an advantage when they apply to college. Here's the really interesting part. She based it on the fact that high schools in Texas are racially segregated. Her plan would give the top students at every high school the same change to get into a Texas public university. It would have nothing to do with the color of their skin.

Irma:

This bill will certainly encourage many students to do good, because they know that if they would be in the top 10% percent of the graduating class, they would be automatically admitted into a university, any university in the state of Texas.

Neena:

The rule became a staple of Texas college admissions. Even after the ban on affirmative action in Texas was lifted in 2003, the rule stayed in place. Now, UT Austin uses a combination of affirmative action, and the top 10% rule. Coach Moreau says the rule gives students at Bryan Adams the same opportunity to get into college as kids at wealthier schools.

[00:18:00]
Moreau:

 

For here, for a school like Bryan Adams, the top 10% rule is crucial, because test scores are not factored in and their hard work and work ethic through academics in school pays off.

Neena:

What she said about test scores is really important, because most Black and Hispanic students who do well in school, just don't do as well on standardized tests like the SAT. The top 10% rule isn't just about getting into college. It opens the door to the most elite public universities in Texas. The University of Texas at Austin, and Texas A&M. After it became law, the number of Blacks and Hispanics admitted to UT went from just over 1,000, to more than 1,200.

 

For Genesis, finding out whether she would place in the top 10% felt like unlocking her whole future.

Genesis:

[00:19:00]

I remember it was right after Spanish class, and I ran to the counselors rooms. There was already a line, so I found my way to the front. She had the transcripts, and then she told us where to look.

Neena:

Everybody was nervous.

Genesis:

College and graduating and all that stuff became a reality in that month, because all of our hard work was put down in a number.

Speaker 2:

When we come back, we'll hear more from Genesis and Grayson. We'll also see how the system that Genesis is counting on to help her get into college faces huge opposition, because if she gets into school like UT Austin, it means other people don't.

Jane:

I get calls from irate parents, with children who are crying, who made higher than 4 point GPA all through school and they can't get into UT.

Speaker 2:

That's next on Reveal.

Matthew:
[00:20:00]

Hey everyone, I'm Matthew Watkins, the reporter with the Texas Tribune. I worked with Neena Satija on the story you're hearing right now about the top 10% rule in Texas, and what it means for affirmative action nationwide. It's part of our new Texas Tribune series called The Price of Admission, that takes a close look at efforts to make the state's top universities look more like Texas. Our stories explore the intense debate that the top 10% rule has sparked across the state, and how it could end the consideration of race in college admissions across the country.

 

We've also created a data interactive where you can check out which public high schools in Texas send the most students to UT Austin. Don't miss our full investigation, The Price of Admission. You can find it all on our website, texastribune.org.

Al Letson:

 

[00:21:00]

From The Center for Investigative Reporting in PRX, this is Reveal. I'm Al Letson. Think about some of the best public universities in your state. Maybe it's University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, University of Wisconsin in Madison, or Penn State. Imagine your child could get into that school automatically if their grades put them in the top of their high school graduating class.

 

That's how it works in Texas. It's supposed to help kids get into great public colleges, even if the high school they went to wasn't so great. If you're not in the top of your class, you can still get into those schools based on other factors. Including test scores, extra curricular activities, essays, and race. Back in 2008, the University of Texas turned down a student named Abigail Fisher. She claims the school discriminated against her because she's White. That case has made it all the way to the US Supreme Court. What it decides could affect the entire country.

 

 

[00:22:00]

Abigail Fisher's lawyer says Texas shouldn't consider race, because it has the top 10% rule set up to increase diversity at state schools. Is that rule really working? We've been following two students who go to different schools in the Dallas area just ten miles apart. One school has mostly White students with a planetarium, indoor tennis courts and a parking garage. The other has mostly Hispanic students with none of that stuff.

 

Kids at both schools have a chance at the same college education because of the 10% rule, at least that's the theory. The Texas Tribune's Neena Satija has been investigating whether that's really the way it works.

Neena:

When we last left Genesis Morales at Bryan Adams High School, she was about to find out whether she landed in the top 10% of her senior class. This is a huge moment for her.

Genesis:

I remember it was right after Spanish class, and I ran to one of the counselor's rooms, and there was already a line.

Neena:

If her class rank is high enough, she can automatically get into any state college in Texas. She found her way to the front, got her transcript-

Genesis:

On the bottom it said rank 9 out of 412 I think.

Neena:
[00:23:00]

9 out of 412. Genesis was almost in the top 2% of her class. Suddenly, college felt more attainable.

Genesis:

For me to have that rank, and to know that I'm not going to end up in the same road as all my cousins, all my family members, and my friends. It felt like I'd changed not the entire world, but just my family's world.

Neena:

Her world had just changed. Grayson Rutherford, ten miles away, had a lot going for her too, except-

Grayson:

I'm not top 10%. If I had to guess, I think I'm top 20 to 15, I'm in that range.

Neena:

Grayson goes to Highland Park High School in one of the wealthiest public school districts in the country. Her grade point average is a 4.15 out of 4.0, but her school is so competitive, that still doesn't place her in the top ten. Grayson agrees with the rule, even if it works against her.

Grayson:

[00:24:00]

I still think that minorities definitely should have programs set up of ways of including them into schools that typically just take White, privileged kids. I definitely think that's fair.

Neena:

The rule has ticked off a lot of other Texans. Ever since it became law, politicians haven't stopped debating it.

Jane:

I'm blessed to represent very, very good schools.

Neena:

That's Republican State Senator Jane Nelson. She says the top ten rule favors students like Genesis, at the expense of students like Grayson.

Jane:

It is clockwork, every year, when all of the college acceptance letters start coming in. I get calls from irate parents, with children who are crying, who made higher than 4 point GPA all through school and they can't get into UT to Texas-

Speaker 4:

I think we probably all had those calls.

Jane:

Because they didn't make the top 10%.

Neena:

[00:25:00]

Getting into UT became so competitive that lawmakers tweaked the rule there. Now, the school has to admit three quarters of its freshman class using the rule. UT can admit the rest based on other factors, like essays, athletics, high test scores, and race. Some, like Republican State Senator Charles Schwertner say that change isn't enough.

Charles:

Even with that 25%, are we limiting some of the best and the brightest? Maybe you have a student that is top 12%, that does great on the SAT, that does extracurricular activities that would like to attend UT.

Neena:

UT Austin doesn't like this rule either. In the past, school officials have complained that they don't have the room to recruit great football players, or the next piano virtuoso. Here's UT System Chancellor Bill McRaven speaking publicly about this.

Bill:

The University of Texas at Austin is ranked 52nd in the US News and World report. We have to ask ourselves, "Why is that the case?"

Neena:

McRaven argued that UT Austin's rank is low, because of the caliber of students it accepts.

[00:26:00]
Bill:

 

Candidly right now, what is holding us back is the 10% rule.

Neena:

It's clear UT Austin and a lot of Texas lawmakers really dislike this rule. It was created to increase diversity, but they say, "It ties the schools hands." UT would rather use affirmative action. The funny thing is, The Supreme Court could ban UT from using affirmative action, because it has the top 10% rule, a race neutral way of increasing diversity. If students take advantage of it and apply.

 

Genesis Morales, the student at Bryan Adams High School, who is in the top 2% of her class, wasn't very interested in UT Austin.

Genesis:

For myself, I really don't like Austin. It's really busy, it's way bigger than Dallas.

Neena:

It's so funny that you were told Austin is bigger than Dallas, it's actually much smaller.

Genesis:

Really?

Neena:

She'd never been to Austin. It seemed pretty far to her, a three hour drive.

Genesis:

Austin never really came to my head going, super down south. I don't know how I feel about that. That's why A&M is iffy.

[00:27:00]
Neena:

 

A&M is the other flagship university in Texas, where Genesis would also automatically get in. She was more interested in that school, but it's also a three hour drive.

Genesis:

I don't know if I want to move that far.

Neena:

US News and World Report ranks UT Austin and Texas A&M in the top 100 colleges nationwide. Genesis would automatically get into either of them. When we first met her last fall, her first choice was Texas Women's University. It doesn't even have a US News ranking, and it admits more than 80% of people who apply.

Genesis:

It's kind of like Dallas, but just a little bit smaller and a little bit cleaner.

Neena:

She visited the campus. It was close enough for her parents to go with her.

Genesis:

They loved how close it is, it's just an hour away so it's perfect distance for anything like an emergency or something.

Neena:
[00:28:00]

That matters, because in the beginning of her senior year, Genesis' dad got sick. It turns out he's in the early stages of diabetes. Genesis knows UT Austin and Texas A&M have more resources than Texas Women's.

Section 2 of 3          [00:14:00 - 00:28:05]

Section 3 of 3          [00:28:00 - 00:52:37] (NOTE: speaker names may be different in each section)

Neena:

Austin and Texas A&M have more resources than Texas Woman's. She'd be more likely to graduate on time from those schools, and to earn a higher salary. Top tier schools just make her nervous.

Genesis:

I feel like I'm going to be a joke. I feel like people are going to think that I came from a school that I think I'm so smart, but compared to them it's not the same level.

Neena:

Over at Highland Park High School, Grayson Rutherford's attitude is very different. Even though she's not automatically admitted to UT Austin, that didn't hold her back.

Grayson:

I've always loved Austin. I went down, I took a formal visit a year ago, and I just realized, "Okay, this deserves some attention." The academics are just phenomenal for what you're paying as an in-state resident. It's hard to overlook that.

[00:29:00]
Neena:

 

We're talking $10,000 dollars a years, not including room and board. Compared to almost five times that at Harvard. Still, Grayson did apply to Harvard and a few other schools.

Grayson:

I applied to the University of Washington, UC Berkeley, UCLA, University of Southern California, UT Austin, Tulane, Purdue, University of Michigan, Emory, Vanderbilt, University of North Carolina, University of Richmond, Boston College, Penn, and Harvard. I think that's it.

Neena:

Not quite. She forgot North Eastern and Arizona. Grayson applied to 17 schools. At Bryan Adams, college prep counselor Crystal Moreau's goal is to get her kids to apply to at least five.

Crystal:

Some of them I think I wish they had a little bit more guts a little bit more, because they could succeed at a place. I think they'll be awesome no matter where they go. I'm just happy that they're going.

[00:30:00]
Neena:

 

We asked her what she thinks when people say the top 10% rule isn't fair to other students who go to more competitive high schools.

Crystal:

Not fair? Whatever. Come to Bryan Adams for a minute. I wish I could get a class of iPads or something. My kids literally apply on their cell phones, and if they don't have a cell phone, they borrow their friend's cell phone. These kids apply on their freaking phone. On their phone is how they apply to college. Let's see some of these other kids sit and apply for seven schools on their phone.

Neena:

Coach Moreau's kids wait for acceptance letters in the mail. At Highland Park High School, seniors keep an eye on their personal laptops.

Grayson:

It just felt great to finally see the screen change from, "We're still looking at your application," to, "Congratulations, you've been admitted."

Neena:

That's Grayson, remembering the day she got into UT Austin.

Grayson:

I was so relieved and really happy knowing that I was in a place that I'd fit in.

Neena:

[00:31:00]

UT Austin accepts a small portion of its student body without using class rank. That portion overwhelmingly includes students like Grayson who go to top high schools, have high test scores and tons of extracurricular activities. Those types of students are more often White. By the time we met Grayson, she'd already gotten into 8 schools, including UT, which she calls Texas.

Grayson:

I got into Arizona, North Eastern, Purdue, Tulane, Texas, Boston College, University of Michigan, and University of North Carolina.

Neena:

She was seriously considering UT. The whole point of the top 10% rule was to help students like Genesis get into UT Austin, maybe at the expense of students like Grayson. Instead, the opposite happened. Grayson got into UT Austin, and Genesis never applied.

Neena:

You excited to graduate?

Genesis:

It's bitter-sweet.

Neena:

Yeah?

Genesis:

Yeah.

[00:32:00]
Neena:

 

Why is that? Genesis was walking us to her classroom in Bryan Adams.

Genesis:

I'm really ready to go to college because I just want to start a career and be independent.

Neena:

Mm-hmm (affirmative)

Genesis:

Then I have to realize I'd have to leave my family and my friends, and I have to do everything by myself.

Neena:

It was February, and even though Genesis never applied to UT Austin, she was thinking seriously about going to Texas A&M. Coach Moreau had taken her on a visit.

Genesis:

When I first saw it, the first thing I thought was, if I was watching a movie and they said, "I'm going off to college," that's the first thing I picture in my head. It was really beautiful, it was so big.

Neena:

Genesis knew A&M had more resources than her first choice, Texas Women's.

Genesis:

I would think that they would have more internships and job opportunities and other ways to make networking work.

Neena:

Her friends told her, "A&M is one of the best public universities in Texas. You're in the top 10%. You're automatically admitted, you should go." Genesis asked coach what to do.

[00:33:00]
Genesis:

 

She gave me these two questions, she was like, "Do you want to close to home?" and I said, "I don't know." Then she said, "Do you want to feel independent?" And I said, "Yes." She said, "Well then go to A&M."

Neena:

Genesis really did want to be more independent. She saw advantages in living 3hours away, at A&M. For one thing, her parents are very religious. You might have gotten a hint from her name. She's tangled with them about that.

Genesis:

I'm afraid that my parents are going to make me start going to church again, even though I'm off to college. That was my big fear, because I wanted to create my own person, and not based on my parents.

Neena:

On the other hand, she wasn't sure if she could be her own person at A&M. She couldn't shake the feeling that she didn't belong there.

Genesis:

I felt like I wasn't smart enough for them.

Neena:

On top of all that, Genesis' dad has been getting sicker. Three hours away began to seem too far. The last time we met, she had finally made up her mind.

Genesis:

I am going to Texas Women's University.

Neena:

Okay, that's what you decided?

Genesis:

Mm-hmm (affirmative)

Neena:

Congratulations.

Genesis:

Thanks.

[00:34:00]
Neena:

 

Deciding on Texas Women's University, TWU, lifted a weight off her shoulders.

Genesis:

Now I'm really excited to go to TWU, to pay my deposit, to buy everything already. I'm just really happy now.

Al Letson:

We checked in with Grayson too. It turned out, she'd gotten into Vanderbilt in Nashville with a full scholarship. She told us by email she took them up on the offer. Under the top 10% rule, dozens of seniors at the two schools we visited should automatically get into UT Austin. All they have to do is apply. Here's what happened last year. At Grayson's mostly White school, more than 100 kids got into UT Austin. 67 decided to go. At Genesis's mostly Hispanic school, 15 got in. Only 1 student decided to go.

 

We asked Emily Bazelon, the New York Times Magazine reporter and legal expert what she thought about that.

[00:35:00]
Emily:

 

That is such a failure of something. Those are really frustrating statistics. Presumably more than one student at that mostly Hispanic high school would benefit from going to UT. That might be a really exciting option.

Al Letson:

What happened at Bryan Adams isn't a fluke. We looked at the 25,000 seniors who attended the poorest public high schools in Texas, and the same number of kids who attended the state's richest schools. From the poorer schools, only 313 people state-wide enrolled at UT Austin last year. Among the same number from the richest schools, 1,421 enrolled. Nearly five times as many.

Emily:

 

[00:36:00]

The idea that the white students intuitively understand that because lots of people have told it to them, and to them marching onto UT seems like an expected thing to do. For Hispanic students, for whatever reason, they're not availing themselves of an opportunity they have, that suggests that something is broken.

Al Letson:

A big thanks to Texas Tribune reporter Matthew Watkins who co-reported the story. You can read more about the top 10% rule and the US Supreme Court case at texastribune.org. Their series is called The Price of Admission. By the way, we should say that the University of Austin and Texas A&M University have been financial supporters of our partners at the Texas Tribune. The city of Berkeley California has been struggling with racial diversity in its public schools for decade. Its plan to integrate schools is considered one of the best in the country. When you get to high school, the kids tend to split up again.

Speaker 8:

I could walk you into a class that's all Black, I could walk you into a class that's 95% White. That's segregation.

Al Letson:
[00:37:00]

That story, when we come back on Reveal. From the Center For Investigative Reporting, and PRX.

Speaker 8:

This is Andy Donohue. I'm a senior editor here at Reveal. Our reporter Nathan Halverson recently found some pretty interesting classified documents from Wikileaks. These secret conversations show how global, political and business leaders are worried that water shortages could lead to all kinds of unrest around the world. The cables read like diary entries from an apocalyptic sci-fi novel. They document in real time how a lack of water has already helped fuel civil wars in Yemen and Syria.

 

 

[00:38:00]

Even executives at Nestle say that global water shortages are just around the corner. In fact, in 2009 they privately told US officials that the planet would have run out of water 15 years ago if the rest of the world ate like Americans. There's more to the story, so head over to reavealnews.org to read it for yourself.

Al Letson:

From the Center For Investigative Reporting and PRX, this is Reveal. I'm Al Letson. This hour, we've seen how a Texas higher ed case before the US Supreme Court places the future of race based affirmative action in the balance. Now, let me take you back to the 1960's in Berkeley California, when something radical happened in the city's public schools.

Speaker 9:

The Berkeley plan, integration 68 is reality today as Berkeley became the first major American city to achieve total integration in it's public schools. As one Berkeley mother put it this morning, "I think it's going to be a wonderful experience for the children. I only wish that I had the same opportunity when I was young."

Al Letson:

 

[00:39:00]

Berkeley's integration plan involved busing kids to elementary schools across town. The middle schools are in between the wealthy White and working class Black neighborhoods. The plan has worked for the most part. Berkeley's K through 8 system is a model for the rest of the country on how to integrate schools. Things have been more difficult for the city's single high school.

Rick:

When I first got to Berkeley High-

Al Letson:

Former English teacher Rick Ayers arrived there in the 90's.

Rick:

I imagined, because it was Berkeley, with it's radical tradition, it was going to be so progressive in its education and so committed to integration and success for all students.

Al Letson:

The school was struggling to bridge the achievement gap between White and Black students. Today, activists students and administrators say the system is still falling short in more ways than one. It's November 5th, 2015. Black students are leading a walk out through downtown Berkeley, prompted by one student's threats to publicly lynch Blacks on campus. Some students and parents felt the administration was trying to cover it up. Here's Berkeley High parent Denise Moody.

[00:40:00]
Denise:

 

I felt like Berkeley High didn't care a matter about what was said. When it comes to Black African Americans, they don't do anything, they just sweep it under the carpet and let it be.

Al Letson:

Reporter Adizah Eghan of KQED in San Francisco has been following this story since that day in November.

Activists:

Black lives matter! Black lives matter!

Adizah:

After school on the day of the walkout, I headed to Berkeley High to figure out what was up.

Kayla:

Excuse me! She's on the phone. Hey, do you want to sign the poster? Ya'll sign it.

Adizah:

Students were signing on a large sheet of butcher paper that read, "Show love."

Kayla:

It's for a good cause, you know what happened today?

Adizah:

Junior Kayla Grizby helped organize the effort.

Kayla:

I just came from my class and I was the only Black person in there. After this, it made me feel really uncomfortable just sitting in the classroom trying to do my work.

Adizah:

She and many of the Black students I talked to, said their White counterparts are oblivious to their concerns. Here's sophomore Alicia Harger.

[00:41:00]
Alicia:

 

Every day, coming to school, Blackness is tiring. I wish that just for a day I could come to school and not have to deal with my Blackness, and able to just sit in a classroom and be able to learn like the average student.

Adizah:

This is an every day thing. Junior [Jenea Sowazi 00:41:12] feels it in Advanced Spanish.

Jenea:

There's not really many people that look like me.

Adizah:

What do they look like?

Jenea:

They're Caucasian students, students that aren't of color. Walking to class, there's looks. If I raise my hand, there's looks. Nothing is specifically said, but you know. As a person of color, you know.

Adizah:

 

[00:42:00]

Most of the time, people brush off these assumptions and slights. Black and White students I spoke with said they want Berkeley High to create space for people to talk about it. A month after the walkout, on the day the student threatened a public lynching, the Black student union and some staff organized a day of learning around racial issues. This teacher addressed a classroom of mostly white students.

Speaker 17:

Our goal today is to end with an action. What is an action you can take to be an ally at Berkeley High School? Number one-

Adizah:

Even after discussion like this, a lot of white students, like senior Zoey Geoffrey wanted to know, "Now what?"

Zoey:

We really want to be here, we want to help, we want to be activists, but what's the line that we- What's too much? Where are we overstepping our boundaries?

Adizah:

At the time, students felt charged. Officials at the school promised not to let the matter drop.

Deja:

Now, literally nobody is talking about it.

Adizah:

That's Deja Bointon. A Berkeley High senior I met a couple months after this day of learning. She hopes to become a special education teacher. Deja's still waiting for the, "Now what" from the principal.

[00:43:00]
Deja:

 

He literally just walks around campus with his baseball cap on, not doing anything that I feel would benefit the African American students here at Berkeley High.

Adizah:

Fewer than half the students here are White. Nearly a quarter are Black, another quarter are Latino, and quite a few students are Asian and mixed race. If you just look at the numbers, it seems diverse. When you step onto campus, you find something else.

Rick:

I can walk you into a class that's all Black. I can walk you into a class that's 95% White. That's segregation.

Adizah:

 

[00:44:00]

That's former Berkeley High English Teacher Rick Ayers. How did it get this way? In the early 2000's, Berkeley changed its structure to meet the needs of students from new immigrants to professors' kids. Berkeley High split into five separate programs. What they call, "Small schools." Each has a different focus. Arts, digital media, public service, international baccalaureate. Students choose which ones they want. Most, but not all, get their first choice. Principal Sam Pasarow says this helps the school's academic standing.

Sam:

Berkeley High School is getting really excellent outcomes for students across the board relative to neighboring districts. Our graduation rates, our college entrant rates, our college persistence rates are higher.

Adizah:

 

[00:45:00]

It makes sense. Berkeley High wants kids to succeed, but the way it's doing that has led to re-segregation. Three of the small schools are predominantly Black and Latino. Those students rarely mix with the White students in the two larger schools. The same principal who Deja Bointon says doesn't do anything runs into her on the campus green. He's not wearing that baseball cap, but principal Pasarow just starts doing my job for me.

Sam:

You are a 12th grader, you've been in AHA all 4 years I'm guessing?

Adizah:

AHA is Berkeley's Arts and Humanities Academy. It's one of the small schools that is predominantly Black and Latino.

Sam:

What's going well, and what can be improved on?

Deja:

What's going well is the community that we all have, and the love that we all have for each other. What needs improvement is, more integrated classes with different small schools, because we just have classes with our own community. I like to get to know other kids outside of that school.

Sam:

We're really trying to understand. Do we want to make classrooms where Black, White, Latino and Asian kids are all mixed together?

Deja:

Mm-hmm (affirmative)

Sam:

Is there power in being a student in AHA and seeing a lot of other African American kids in your classes.

[00:46:00]
Adizah:

 

As a freshman coming in, Deja didn't think she was going to do well high school. In AHA, certain teachers saw her and supported her. She told the principal:

Deja:

Having some classes where it's just people like you, learning things that you're learning, encouraging you, pushing you and telling you that you can get through it is a good thing. Also having classes that are mixed is a good thing too.

Sam:

Okay. I have a pretty direct question for you, and I acknowledge we're on radio here. I asked this of all 12th graders, Deja. What does the future hold for you? What's going on next year, please?

Deja:

Well right now, I've got accepted to 10 different colleges-

Sam:

I just did a fist bump, that's not audible. I'm really proud of you being accepted at 10 colleges. You obviously really worked your butt off, and you should understand how awesome this is.

Adizah:

This conversation reminds Pasarow what's tricky about principal of a school like Berkeley high.

Sam:
[00:47:00]

How do we create conditions for a real connection to happen between students and staff, and really build community in a school with 3, 000 kids?

Adizah:

Away from Pasarow, Deja opens up about her experience at school.

Deja:

I know I don't feel safe here. I feel like anybody could come in and say whatever they want, and do whatever they want too. The principal won't care, nobody will care. I feel like the security guards walk around campus and don't really protect anybody. If there's a fight somewhere off campus, they're quick to run to it. I just feel like nobody's protecting the people who need to be protected.

Adizah:

Like the Black people?

Deja:

Yeah.

Adizah:

Away from Deja, the principal agrees, these are some serious issues. This is his first year as principal at Berkeley High. Them walkout in November brought everything to a head.

Deja:

Probably one of the hardest weeks of my entire career as an educator. I still see some students on campus who are really angry at me for what they perceive to be me covering up this incident. I can't understand what African American kids at Berkeley High, what their experience is. Just being a different identity than them. Everyone's had struggle in their life, but- There's no kind of lesson plan to utilize in situations like this besides making a space for I think what ids and families are going through.

Adizah:

Berkeley High's Black student union expects the principal and it's own members to deliver on that. Here's the leadership team coordinator, Kayla Grizby.

Kayla:

What this experience has taught me to be able to go with a group of people that are for the same thing that you're for, and actually get work done, and put pressure on people who are way above you. We're high school students, and these people have masters degrees and PhDs and things like that, and are very educated and intelligent people. We have to show them that we are also intelligent, and we know what we're talking about. Were not just some dumb kids.

[00:49:00]
Adizah:

 

The organization is calling for a few changes. More Black teachers, a culturally inclusive curriculum in all five small schools, and a Black resource center as soon as possible. Principal Sam Pasarow says, "The school plans to hire more Black teachers, and to start cultural competency training that the students can benefit from next year."

Sam:

If it's all talk and it doesn't lead to change, I take responsibility for that. I want to create the conditions for these crucial conversations having an actual outcome that changes things for good and for kids.

Adizah:

You heard from Deja's mom, Denise Moody, at the beginning of this story. I caught up with her again outside the school one afternoon. Whatever happens at Berkeley High, her daughter is on her way out.

Denise:

I am the proudest mother on the face of this Earth, because the struggle is real. I didn't graduate from high school, so I'm seeing all of my dreams, everything through my kids. Deja has always been that one I know is going to make it. When I go to the mail box and I got another letter, another letter, and financial aid is just going to pay for her college. I'm like, "How blessed can we be?"

Adizah:

Mother and daughter give Berkeley High some credit. Not the whole school, but the few mostly Black teachers and staff who saw Deja's potential, and pushed her to fulfill it. She's decided to go to a historically Black college or university.

Deja:

[00:51:00]

I feel like if I go to a school where everybody looks like me, teachers teaching kids that look like me, the teachers look like me, I will be motivated to the utmost and pushed, and w ell taken care of.

Adizah:

That's been Deja's dream since she was a little girl. She feels she didn't get enough of it at Berkeley High.

Al Letson:

That's reporter Adizah Eghan of public radio station KQED. We'd also like to thank that station's Julia McEvoy and Holly Kernan. More of what you just heard, plus our latest stories, go to revealnews.org. Join our conversations on Facebook or Twitter. Our show today was edited by Cheryl Duvall, Neena Satija was our lead producer. Thanks to Texas Tribune reporter Matthew Watkins who co-reported the story on Texas' top 10% rule.

 

 

[00:52:00]

Thanks to editors Ayan Mittra, and Corrie MacLaggan for help on that story. Our staff includes Stan Alcorn, Fernanda Camarena, Julia B. Chan, Rachel de Leon, Peter Haden, Michael Montgomery, Michael Schiller, Ike Sriskandarajah, Laura Starecheski, and Amy Walters. Our sound design team is The Wonder Twins, my man J Breezy, mister Jim Briggs, and Claire C. Note Mullen. Amy Pyle is our editor-in-chief and Christa Scharfenberg is our head of studio. Susanne Reber is our executive editor, and our executive producer is Kevin Sullivan.

 

Our theme music is by Camerado, Lighting. Support for Reveal is provided by the Reva and David Logan Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the John D. And Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the John S. And James L. Knight Foundation, and the Ethics in Excellence and Journalism Foundation. Reveal is a co-production of The Center For Investigative Reporting and PRX. I'm Al Letson, and remember: There is always more to the story.

Section 3 of 3          [00:28:00 - 00:52:37]