Dr. Liliana Garces – MCA Spring Speaker



On the evening of April 17, many students joined Dr. Liliana Garces, in a discussion about affirmative action and the U.S. Supreme Court case, Fisher versus University of Texas at Austin. Dr. Garces is an assistant professor of higher education at Pennsylvania State University. She conducts research to understand and inform policies that can assist education and policy makers address racial and ethnic inequalities in K-12 and postsecondary education. The Fisher v University of Texas at Austin case is an example of the affirmative action debate that is still in the process of being judged.

At the beginning of her discussion, Dr. Garces defined affirmative action as the “use of race and socioeconomic status to determine admission to higher education,” as solid background. Dr. Garces brought out some aspects as to why she believed racial diversity is prevalent in a higher education institution; “racial diversity leads to civic engagement and develop cross-cultural conversations among students on campuses.” She also pointed out that it is necessary because it prevents harm associated with racial isolationism. Dr. Garces further mentioned that policies such as affirmative action are necessary to achieve racial diversity; however, it is a complicated process because the federal and state regulations are different.  At the federal level a regulation can be permitted, but at the state level it can be banned; therefore, creating complications when developing policies for all institutions in this country. Even though these points are brought up about affirmative action, in the later discussion, she shared that affirmative action should not be the only criteria because it acts as a band-aid rather than a means to answer fundamental questions. In continuation, without understanding these fundamental questions, we are led into a discussion about privilege rather than creating a quality education for students.

With the information provided, students asked great questions to gain insight about such policies and court cases.  For example, some asked about other solutions that institutions can implement to develop better policies other than just one – affirmative action. Others asked questions clarifying the ongoing court case and alternatives to standardized testing as a method to admit students into higher education. Dr. Garces politely answered those questions to the best of her ability, because some questions did not have a solid answer. In the end, different aspects of the discussion informed students in different ways depending on their personal take on policies in educational institutions. This provides a small overview of the discussion and does not encompass all the different ideas shared. Overall, it was a successful and educational discussion with Dr. Garces.

– Neng Vang ‘14