Trying to Understand the Entitlement Ethos in Abigail Fisher v University of Texas and Republican Party Post-Election



Mediocre Student Abigail Fisher v University of Texas

This time of year, I spend a lot of time sitting in cafes with my friends’ children, helping them with their college application essays. (The University of Michigan’s early decision deadline is November 1.) Reading their essays is such a privilege, such a window into their worlds (that they often do not even share with their own parents). I learn so much about ethical dilemmas they have faced, challenges they have overcome, their diverse communities, their families, their dreams. Working on successive drafts together, I ask questions and push for clarification, and these teenagers that I have watched grow up and who thought they knew it all realize that there is more to learn, more to write, more that can be done. The difference between first and last drafts is stunning.

Going through this process with them always reminds me of when I applied to college. I applied to nine universities—Harvard, Princeton, Berkeley, Stanford, Dartmouth, Georgetown, etc. My friends and I were debaters, all so cocky and sure about ourselves. We had serious discussions about whether or not we would turn down Stanford in favor of Berkeley, Harvard in favor of Stanford. When the acceptance and rejection letters began coming in, it was quite humbling that of those nine applications, I was only accepted into my safety school. Of course, my safety school was UC Berkeley, which still says volumes, but I learned a huge lesson in humility that year, and I am better for it.

So I am really puzzled by people like Abigail Fisher of the current US Supreme Court case Abigail Fisher v University of Texas. A mediocre student, the University of Texas insists that she simply was not good enough, but she is certain that the reason she was not accepted is because of affirmative action and less-qualified minorities. This case also pulls Asian Americans into the argument.

Lots of folks have already written about the legal dimensions of this case, and it is complex, but I am curious about the sense of entitlement that makes her so certain that it is the fault of others that she did not get in.

Fisher says that it was her dream since second grade to attend the University of Texas like her father and sister, but if that is the case, then why did she not work harder to get better grades? She had ten years to work up to it, to get tutoring, to learn more. Even after she was rejected, why did she not get her grades up at Louisiana State University and then transfer after a year or two? She is certain she would have gotten a better job if she had a University of Texas degree rather than her Louisiana State University degree. I want to know how many times she rewrote her college application essay. How many people helped double check her work? How many times did she take the SAT? Did she take an SAT prep class to improve her scores? What were her extracurriculars like? How close to the deadline did she fill out the forms? If she really did care so much, she should not have cut it so close, she should have made sure.

In a way, that is what Asian Americans do, who realize the disadvantages of discrimination and the glass ceiling and try to compensate. (Then they are criticized for working the system.) I tell my children that if something is important, they should not hover on the borderline. If they really want something, they should make sure that they are solid. Otherwise there are no guarantees. They have each learned this lesson the hard way.

That sense of entitlement is also at the heart of the Republican Party’s sour grapes about why they did not win the Presidential election. Some are saying that they lost because so many women and people of color came out to vote. But women and people of color are supposed to vote. I do not understand why instead of blaming the other or cheating, it does not occur to them to be a different sort of leader, one that appeals to all the people in this country.

Frances Kai-Hwa Wang is a second-generation Chinese American from California who now divides her time between Michigan and the Big Island of Hawaii. She is a contributor for New America Media Ethnoblog, Chicagoistheworld.org, PacificCitizen.org, and InCultureParent.com. She team-teaches Asian Pacific American History and the Law at the University of Michigan and University of Michigan Dearborn. She is a popular speaker on Asian Pacific American and multicultural issues. Check out her Web site at franceskaihwawang.com, her blogs at franceskaihwawang.blogspot.com and rememberingvincentchin.com, and she can be reached at fkwang888@gmail.com.



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