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TWO YEARS AFTER PROPOSAL 2 PASSED, THE CAMPUS DIALOGUE
ABOUT AFRMATWEACON LARGELY WENT SILENT. THE UNIVERSITY
ADOPTED NEW POLICIES TO MAINTAIN DIVERSITY, BUT DESCRIPTOR PLUS IS
FAR FROM A PERFECT, PERMANENT SOLUTION.
THE EVOLUTION OF
AFFIRMATIVE ACTION: TIMELINE
President John F. Kennedy coins
the term in an executive order
mandating that projects financed
with federal funds "take affirmative
action" to ensure that hiring and
employment decisions were free of
President Lyndon B. Johnson signs
the Civil Rights Act prohibiting
discrimination based on race, color,
religion or national origin.
lmost a month has passed since
Barack Obama was elected presi-
,dent of the United States. The
sight of the band's procession, red, white
and blue Obama signs and an integrated,
multiracial crowd chanting in unity on'
the Diag will not soon be forgotten. But
November also summons another recent
historical moment that contrasts sharply
with the festivities a month ago: the pas-
sage of Proposal 2, the Michigan Civil
Passed in 2006 and implemented in
2007, the initiative banned affirmative
action in the state of Michigan. It had
a significant effect on the University's
admission's policies. One black LSA stu-
dent described the campus atmosphere
on Nov. 8, 2006, as "filled with anger and
disbelief, especially in the black com-
munity. Amongst my white peers it was
drastically different. It was kind of like
'that sucks now lets move on."'
This student asked for anonymity
because he did not want to draw atten-
tion to himself when he applies for jobs
in the upcoming winter semester. But
this feeling - the fear that talking about
Proposal 2 and affirmative action will
result in having your opinion discounted
as passive victimization orgarner arepu-
tation for being a race relations malcon-
tent - is prevalent on campus.
"In the Business School it is such a
sensitive topic," said a black student who
asked for anonymity so he wouldn't be
labeled a "crying victim." "I came to Ann
Arbor with the perception that this was
a progressive community and I see the
same racial fractures here in the form of
self-segregation as I've seen in Chicago
or Washington, D.C."
Despite all the emotions initially sur-
rounding the passage of the proposal, the
conversation about affirmative action at
the University has largely fallen silent.
More than two years later, tough ques-
tions on race persist.
What are the barriers for discussing
affirmative action? What are student
perspectives on affirmative action? What
progress was made since affirmative
action's inception? What have been the
experiences of students on a post-affir-
mative action campus?
People of all colors and backgrounds
are impacted by affirmative action. But,
in order to fully account for the histori-
cal origination of affirmative action and
ferred to be anonymous so as not to draw
attention to himself, said he is not com-
fortable talking about affirmative action
in public, but definitely doesn't agree
"If affirmative action really worked,
(race and gender) wouldn't still be a
problem," he said.
As the term"affirmative action" some-
times functions as a proxy for "race," it
can be a hard topic to tackle given our
respective histories and personal invest-
"Interracial conversations on race
are usually had on this superficial level
where whites acknowledge the history of
black subjugation and oppression and it's
legacy but only want to offer lip service,"
said a graduate student in the School of
"Any policy or initiative that remedies
this will involve some form of redistribu-
tion, whether in taxes or preference. But
no one wants to talk about this."
Making progress in this conversation
must also be an exercise in how much
information we've retained this cam-
paign season about the "racial stalemate"
President-Elect Obama mentioned in his
famous speech on race, "A More Perfect
Union." Obama's speech on race offers
that it's also important to not dismiss
"legitimate discussions of racial injustice
and inequality as mere political correct-
ness or reverse racism."
It's tempting to frame the debate as
a "litmus test for one's human decency"
in the words of T. Alexander Smith and
Lenhan O'Connell's 1997 text "Black
Anxiety, White Guilt and The Politics of
Status Frustration." But to do this would
ignore the findings of a 2004 study con-
ducted by Dr. William G. Bowen, former
president of Princeton University, that
found 19 of America's elite colleges and
universities did not give additional con-
sideration to low-income students when
considering applicants, thus not account-
ing for poor whites.
The affirmative actioninhighereduca-
tion debate straddles two lofty concepts:
racial justice in America and the creation
of the ideal educational environment. In
this attempt to begin a new conversation
about affirmative action, we wrestle with
these concepts when measuring progress
nationally and here at the University.
See AFFIRMATIVE ACTION, Page 7B
Johnson makes a speech at How-
ard University saying, "We seek
not just freedom but opportunity-
not just legal equity but human
ability-not just equality as a right
and a theory, but equality as a fact
and as a result."
The landmark Supreme Court
case Regents of the University of
California v. Bakke upheld the use
of race as a legitimate factor when
choosing among qualified appli-
cants for admission into schools.
The University of Michigan lost
the ability to use a point system
in admissions to ensure racial
diversity in Gratz v. Bollinger when
the Supreme Court ruled that the
University's system violated the
Equal Protection Clause of the 14th
The Supreme Court upholds the
University of Michigan Law School's
policy in Grutter v. Bollinger, ruling
that race can be one of many factors
considered by colleges when select-
ing their students because it furthers
a compelling interest in obtaining
the educational benefits that flow
from a diverse student body."
V Passage of Proposal 2, the Michi-
gan Civil Rights Initiative, which
banned affirmative action in the
state of Michigan,
Descriptor Plus, a program that the
University adopted as an alterna-
tive to affirmative action, provides
demographic information about
the socioeconomic, educational
and racial breakdown of applicants'
neighborhoods or high schools
Bryon Maxley, an LSA freshman at the time, modeled the gags that were handed out to be
worn on National Take Affirmative Action Day on Oct. 25, 2005.
By S E&A
DAILY STAFF WRITERS
limit the scope of this article, we focus on
the dynamic between African Americans
and whites, and affirmative action as it
relates to higher education.
BARRIERS TO CONVERSATION
The actual definition of affirmative
action is a contested one. For some, it
negatively connotes the rhetoric of "enti-
tlement," "redistribution" or - as it was
described in a 2008 Indianapolis Star
article, "Equality Beyond Oval Office"
- "a particularly hard preference of one
aspirant over another" or in contrast as
"government, colleges and industries
considering an applicant's race as one
factor among many."
One white LSA freshman, who pre-