real issue is skin color, not race
As the date approaches for the Supreme Court to hear arguments on the
University of Michigans affirmative action policy, an MSU professor
says the real issue is not race but skin color.
for Educational Justice in Support of Affirmative Action
5 p.m. March 31, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. For details
shouldnt qualify people on the basis of race, because race has
no biological significance, says Ronald E. Hall, an assistant
professor of social work.
Hall argues that hiring studies show that white people tend to give
more favorable ratings to light-skinned people of color applying for
jobs. They are not alone in their discrimination, wrote
Hall in a 1997 study called Fixing Affirmative Action.
People of color under the same circumstances give more favorable
job hire ratings to darker-skinned applicants.
In order to avoid such discrimination, says Hall, affirmative action
laws should eliminate the term race from the categories of discriminatory
attributes color, gender, sex, religion, national origin
and emphasize skin color as the basis for hiring diverse
The social scientist, who opposes the Bush administrations effort
to eliminate affirmative action laws, said that these attacks didnt
surprise him, because affirmative action laws have been so poorly
written on the basis of race. He referred to lawsuits filed by
white students claiming reverse discrimination and argued
that current anti-discrimination policies can have the effect of discriminating
particularly against white males or darker-skinned applicants of Mediterranean
descent, for instance.
Hall notes that affirmative action was first applied in 1935 for the
benefit of non-unionized white males who sought redress for discrimination
by employers. The National Labor Relations Act, or the Wagner Act, ignored
discrimination based upon gender or ethnicity. Back then, a job announcement
might typically advertise for a white male, preferably of
It was on the basis of the Wagner Act that 30 years later civil and
womens rights activists pushed Congress to pass the Equal Employment
Opportunity Act, passed in 1972.
Although Hall would like to see affirmative action be revised, he opposes
Bushs engagement in the U-M case. The issue here is race
and power, said Hall, who himself graduated from University of
Michigan. U-M admits students according to criteria beyond test score
results, such as geography, class and family, alumni status, and athletic
ability. People are comfortable with these advantages, but they
arent with race.
The Supreme Court, which will hear arguments in April, has received
legal briefs from more than 300 organizations in favor of affirmative
action. If it were to judge cases based on the sheer volume of briefs
submitted, the University of Michigan would have no trouble prevailing
in its defense of its race-conscious admission politics, commented
the Chronicle of Higher Education in a Feb. 28 report.
But unlike the protesters, which include Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm,
more than 60 private colleges, seven prestigious private universities,
65 Fortune 500 Companies, and 54 higher education associations, the
MSU Board of Trustees hasnt officially taken a stance on the issue.
The university is neither pro nor con, said Terry Denbow,
MSUs vice president of university relations.
Daniel Sturm/City Pulse
of MSU student groups, including the Black Student Alliance, the North
American Indian Student Organization, the Womyns Council and others
have recently started to campaign in support of affirmative action,
urging MSU to take a clear stance. Were really disappointed
that the university didnt file a friend of the court brief,
said Ernesto Mireles, who co-chairs Culturas de las Razas Unidas. I
think its very indicative of the administrations attitude.
The students launched a campaign called REACTION, which stands for Reminding
Every American Citizen That Its Our Need.
James Gill, president of the Lansing NAACP, said he sent a letter to
MSUs president, Peter McPherson, urging him to support affirmative
action. MSU recruits predominantly African-American athletes to
bring dollars to the university, but they cant support affirmative
action? That doesnt make sense, Gill said.
university officials have publicly avoided taking sides, MSU does belong
to the American Council on Education, which on March 3 filed a friend
of the court brief claiming that student diversity is a compelling
governmental interest. Asked whether this statement didnt
contradict the trustees silence, Denbow said: We didnt
take our name off their letter. But we simply didnt file a legal
brief on our own.
The universitys hesitance to take a stance fits into the larger
historical trend on controversial policy issues, says political activist
Michael Price, who remembers racism in housing in East Lansing in the
1960s. In April 1965 students from seven civil rights campus groups
picketed a rental residence after a landlady rejected racially mixed
roommates as renters. On May 25 some 100 students protested at City
Hall. According to a State News story, MSU President John Hannah was
forced to fly back from a meeting of the U.S. Commission of Civil Rights,
which he chaired. When he arrived, he ordered MSU buses to round up
the protesters and take them to Ingham County Jail. Sixty students were
back to the turmoil, Price said, MSU had academic programs all
over the world including in Africa, yet its own community was segregated.
Price remembers how civil rights activists planted the rumor that Martin
Luther King Jr. was looking for a northern city like Lansing in which
to expose the hypocrisy of the North. A series of rallies
brought East Lansing into national news. Finally in 1968, spurred on
by Kings assassination, East Lansing adopted an ordinance prohibiting
landlords from practicing racial discrimination.
40 years later, a newly formed MSU student coalition is trying to revive
the activists legacy. The Lansing NAACP and Direct Action! have
announced that they will support the effort to rally for affirmative
action. On March 31 students plan to participate in a rally for educational
justice at the University of Michigan. The day after, students from
across the country plan to rally in Washington.
Louis Brown, the ASMSU Student Assembly vice chairman for external affairs,
accused the administration of being hypocritical. They advertise
diversity and put affirmative action on their
letter head, yet less than half of the African-American students who
come to MSU actually graduate. Brown, an international relations
and political economy senior, said he was concerned that Michigans
budget cuts and Bushs intervention could lead to cutting programs
for minority students.
Although MSU claims to support all disadvantaged students, its affirmative
action report does not monitor socio-economical background. The Office
of Affirmative Actions 121-page compliance and monitoring report
contains data on women, disabled, and minority enrollment, but no information
regarding family income or education levels. Its almost
impossible to monitor socio-economic disadvantage, because we do not
ask for family income on the application, said Pamela T. Horne,
MSUs director of admissions,. She pointed out that applicants
can apply for special consideration under the College Achievement Admissions
Program, a supplemental admissions process for high school seniors who
have demonstrated academic promise, but who have not yet been able to
show their potential due to socio-economic factors. The programs
enrollment last fall was 474, of which 417 were minority students. This
is roughly 6 percent of the entering freshman class.
University of Michigan, MSU does not assign point values to factors
such as race and economic background when it makes undergraduate admission
decisions. Instead, the university specifically targets minority groups
by recruiting them. However, the resulting overall minority enrollment
is similar. Out of a total freshman enrollment of 6,949, 10.2 percent
are African-American, 3.5 percent are Hispanic and 0.8 percent Native
American. At U-M, the percentages are 8.9, 6.1, and 1.1 respectively.
Horne, who came to MSU last year after being assistant director of U-Ms
admissions office, said that MSU monitors numbers, and when theres
a significant dip, recruiting efforts are increased. In contrast to
U-Ms point system, MSU does a holistic review, according
to its admissions director.
The criterion that landed U-M in front of the U.S. Supreme Court
the use of race as a specific category in selecting the freshman class
each year is handled differently at MSU. Ann Arbor awards 20
points in its 150-point system for the status of underrepresented minority
or socio-economic disadvantage. While Michigan State does not award
points for race or economic status, it does ask applicants to spell
out their special circumstances on a separate sheet, and there is voluntary
space to indicate ethnic information.
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