'I deserve to be at UNC': students, alum on Chapel Hill Affirmative Action case

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (WTVD) -- When Taliajah Vann first arrived on the campus of UNC-Chapel Hill her freshman year, the 20-year-old Political Science and Film Studies major took up finding community: people she could relate to on campus.

"You constantly enter the classroom. You constantly enter meetings with administration and you don't see people like you in that space," she said.

That's why the first-generation college student is reacting to the U.S. Supreme Court taking up a lawsuit challenging affirmative action at her university.

"I absolutely deserve to be a student at UNC. I know myself and other African-American students suffer from imposter syndrome," said Vann. "College is not the only path to success, but it is a viable path that so many of choose to take, but if we no longer have access, what are we supposed to do with ourselves? How are we supposed to change the system that have historically held us back?"

Affirmative action was put in place to address racial inequity. It dates back to the civil rights movement when racial bias and segregation in the Jim Crow South left minorities at a disadvantage.

"You can literally place on the backs of many African Americans..many people of color that says I'm a product of affirmative action," said North Carolina Central University Law Professor Irving Joyner.

He said he believes affirmative action offers minorities a chance to compete in society. He said, if outlawed, the cost could be enormous.

"It will revert back to what is was in the 1960's and 1970's. It would mean a lower standard of living for everyone," he said.

Opponents of affirmative action argue that if you can't get in without it, you don't deserve to be there, but supporters argue that's not true.

1994 Chapel Hill graduate Christy Smith is also closely watching as the Supreme Court takes on this case at her alma mater. She shared that affirmative action has created opportunities for her and others.

"I am a registered nurse. I'm also a licensed attorney," said Smith. "Many of us have gone on to not only complete our undergraduate degree, but receive advanced degrees."

That is an option for students like Vann, who have big dreams and goals after graduation.

"Carolina accepted me just like they accepted you. Carolina offered me scholarships in the same way they offered them to you," she said.
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