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In Fisher v. Texas, the key argument for affirmative action lies in the notion that a diverse campus benefits everyone. NPR's Andrea Hsu went to the University of Texas at Austin this week to see how those ideals shape up in real life.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Good job. (Unintelligible).
ANDREA HSU, BYLINE: In the Gregory Gymnasium, it's intramural volleyball on four courts - no uniforms, but there is a unifying look of many of the teams. Take this court: on one side, all Hispanics; on the other, mostly whites. Turns out it's a matchup of the Hispanic Student Association and the SACsquatches, a team of students who work at the SAC, the Student Activity Center. As Allison Killian, a sophomore, explains, anyone can form a team.
ALLISON KILLIAN: So it's a really good opportunity, I think, for people of different races and different backgrounds to get together and kind of come together for one sport. We're actually interacting with each other through athletics, so I think it's a really great opportunity for that.
HSU: For Thomas Pena, a freshman, it's something of a first. In his time at the University of Texas, his interactions with people who aren't Hispanic have been limited.
THOMAS PENA: I've talked to a few, but I haven't branched out completely yet.
HSU: Karina Ramos understands feeling isolated in this campus of 52,000 students.
KARINA RAMOS: I mean, it's a big campus. So, like, you need to connect with, like, somebody like you pretty much. It's really helpful.
HSU: Now a sophomore, Ramos has found a niche - dance. She's learning about African-American history through dance. And in a class of white, black and Hispanic students, she's learning about differences.
RAMOS: You understand them better, like you understand what they do better or why we don't really connect as much and, like, you can change that.
HSU: Karina Ramos and the two others we heard from all went to high school with people who overwhelmingly look like them. At UT, not so much. White students make up almost 50 percent of the student body; Hispanics, 18 percent; Asians, 15 percent; African-Americans, 4-1/2 percent.
ASHLEY REED: I never was one of those people who was like, oh, I'm definitely just going to hang out with the black people. I don't fit in with other people.
HSU: I find Ashley Reed in the Malcolm X Lounge on campus. She's been at a meeting of the Texas Gospel Fellowship, a predominantly African-American group. Reed was born in Texas to a military family, grew up all over the place and now is a freshman studying radio, television and film. One day, students were examining different genres of music videos.
REED: And so, we're watching videos like Madonna's "Material Girl" and then R.E.M's "Losing My Religion," which is like the experimental video. And then we get to the documentary video, which is Snoop Dogg's "Nuthin' But A 'G' Thang," and, like, I'm the black person in that class of, like, 15. And I'm like, ooh, awkward.
HSU: Now Ashley Reed loves UT. But a shortcoming of the school, she says, is that communities of color stick to themselves.
REED: Mostly, like, the black people hang out with other black people and Asian people hang out with other Asian people.
JASON WATT: White fat guys are, like, with white fat guys.
HSU: This is Jason Watt, an officer with the Asian-American culture committee. Though the group's events are open to all students, they've been disappointed that turnout among non-Asians isn't higher. They dream of bringing in Jeremy Lin now that he's playing basketball for the Houston Rockets. They believe there are still many stereotypes yet to be broken.
VICKY NGUYEN: People still think all Asians get good grades.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: That's so not true.
HSU: Vicky Nguyen never really had Asian friends growing up in San Antonio. Her high school was predominantly black and Hispanic. It was only after getting to UT that she started to hangout with Asians. Now, she says, she misses the loud, outgoing, slang-slinging person she was back home.
NGUYEN: Everyone always says when you come to college, you change, like you can totally reinvent yourself. And I think that's something that I tried to do and just - I kind of just want to revert back to how I was.
HSU: So this year, she's joined a few other student groups in hopes of building a more diverse group of friends. Students I spoke with here paint a picture of a campus that has its share of racial tension, but also where people are hungry for more genuine interactions in the classroom and in every area of campus life.
Andrea Hsu, NPR News, Austin.
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