Lecture examines the use of affirmative action policy

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By Allana Akhtar, Daily Staff Reporter
Published April 15, 2014

A staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan discussed the history of and misconceptions surrounding affirmative action with University students and faculty Tuesday evening.

The University’s ACLU Undergraduate Chapter hosted the event in an effort to explain the litigation that follows affirmative action in higher education and what kind of benefits it would bring to a college campus.

The speaker, Mark Fancher, is the racial justice staff attorney at the ACLU of Michigan and works particularly on cases surrounding racial profiling in public schools for students of color and other civil rights cases regarding race.

Fancher started the discussion by explaining the legal history of affirmative action, explaining how the University played a role in the history of affirmative action through 2003 U.S. Supreme Court cases Grutter v. Bollinger and Gratz v. Bollinger.

During his lecture, Fancher said affirmative action serves a role in providing minority students, who have different life and cultural experiences than white students do, an opportunity to share their stories in an educational setting and enhance the overall community culture.

Fancher said this preferential treatment like that used in affirmative action is given to athletes, children of donors to the University and instate residents without the same resistance as with minority students.

He ended his lecture by discussing the recent jurisdiction over Proposal 2, a Michigan initiative on the 2006 ballot to end affirmative action in public schools that passed with a majority vote. ACLU attorneys recently opposed Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette in court, saying that a majority-passing legislature that disenfranchises a minority group is discriminatory and unconstitutional. Furthermore, the fact that students of color must first appeal to the political system before they can lobby University admissions creates unnecessary burdens on those students.

“It’s inherently on its face unfair, and certainly it’s unconstitutional,” Fancher said. “And that’s the very basis of the lawsuit that is before the court right now.”

LSA junior Connor Caplis, the chair of the ACLU Undergraduate Chapter, said the timing of the event was appropriate after the recent #BBUM media demonstration organized by the Black Student Union and other efforts minority students took to express the lack of diversity this past year.

“I think there are a lot of misconceptions about affirmative action,” Caplis said. “Prop. 2 had a lot of problematic messaging that said minority students were getting preferential treatment when in reality that’s not true, no one is gaining any preferential treatment from this policy.”

Many students came out to hear Fancher speak, including LSA freshman Kiaura Clark. After going to a diverse high school, she said she felt an almost “anti-culture shock” upon arriving at the University due to its lack of diversity.

She added that she came to the event because she has a difficult time having educated conversations with students who disagree with affirmative action, both because it is an emotionally charged issue and because of general ignorance surrounding its history.

“It’s very helpful to hear a breakdown of what exactly affirmative action is because a lot of time people who have these debates aren’t educated,” Clark said. “I like hearing the reasons again just so when I’m communicating with other students, I have even more knowledge that I can add to the conversation.”