Group raises awareness of affirmative action

by Fabiana Torreao

Without affirmative action in school admissions policies, minority students will be denied opportunities to higher education, said two defendants Thursday in the University of Michigan anti-affirmative action lawsuit.
Shanta Driver, a spokeswoman for the Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action By Any Means Necessary, and Erika Dowdell, a student defendant in the case, brought their national tour, “Our Voices Will Be Heard,” to Cowles Auditorium.
Their goal was to raise awareness and gain support for affirmative action as a tool to remedy discrimination and increase diversity, said Jessica Hughes, associate to the director of the University’s Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action Office.
“Our goal is to defend the gains of the civil rights movement, defend the fundamental premise that there ought to be full equality in this society,” Driver said. “Without full equality, there can be no democracy.”
Three white applicants sued the University of Michigan’s Board of Regents in 1997, alleging their applications were turned down in favor of minority student applicants with similar credentials. Forty-one students and three affirmative-action groups won the right in August to be included as defendants in the case.
“Even if (affirmative action) is lost temporarily in some campuses, there’ll be a social struggle to regain it,” Driver said. “No community will accept permanent second-class citizenship without a fight.”
Driver, who provides legal advice to the student defendants, said affirmative action was based on the premise that society had been built on white privilege.
“We refuse to make this fight a fight to simply maintain blacks, Latinos, women and other minorities simply as small middle classes,” she said. “This fight is for real equality, for the whole black, Latino and other minority communities. For the vast majority to be able to have access to real opportunities.”
Wendy Leo, a University graduate student in law and sociology, said the pending Supreme Court decision regarding mandatory student services fees can greatly impact the experiences of students of color and affirmative-action policies.
“These attacks are showing students of color that the activities that they are involved in and the issues that are important to their lives are not valued,” Leo said. “It creates a hostile atmosphere on campus.”
An attack on affirmative action is also an attack on Afro-American, women and Latino studies programs at universities, Dowdell said.
“As long as there is racism and sexism in society, race should be considered in all issues,” Dowdell said.