A diverse mixture of student groups populated the Diag yesterday to raise awareness about affirmative action and to encourage voter registration as part of “National Take Affirmative Action Day.”
Several organizations specifically focused on defeating the Ward Connerly initiative. Connerly, a University of California regent and founder of American Civil Rights Coalition, is working to propose a state constitutional amendment for the November 2004 ballot.
The Michigan Civil Rights Initiative would allow residents to decide whether state universities can use race as a factor in admissions.
“We want to promote voter turnout for the referendum Ward Connerly is trying to put through. We are trying to get people to register and vote against it,” said Rackham student Mark Villacorta, member of Students of Color of Rackham.
“ (The rally) is about unity with different arguments. But we work toward the same goal — informing people about affirmative action and fighting Ward Connerly,” said Charsha Mauldin, a member of the University’s NAACP chapter.
Teri Russiello, vice president of the NAACP’s University chapter, also said it was important to defeat the Connerly proposal. “Voting will be the only way to combat Connerly and the signatures,” Russiello said, referring to the 317,517 signatures needed to get the referendum on the ballot.
The rally featured a table where students could officially register to vote. “No matter where you are on the political spectrum, you need to increase voter turnout. That’s how you speak your piece here in America,” said Brandon White, member of Students Supporting Affirmative Action.
SSAA member Harlyn Pacheco said the event was successful because all the groups were able to work together toward the common goal of preserving affirmative action, although all groups have their own agendas. “It’s time to move the message forward and defend our Michigan education,” Pacheco said.
Before the rally, the NAACP and SSAA held an information session called “The Evolution of Affirmative Action Panel.” At the event, panelists discussed the impact that Connerly’s proposition would potentially have on the affirmative action and the U.S. Supreme Court’s decisions handed down last June, which upheld the Law School’s admissions policy while striking down the LSA’s point system.
“We do consider this to be a victory for the University of Michigan and all higher education,” said Jonathon Alger, assistant general counsel at the University.
But Afro-American and African studies Prof. Larry Rowley said there are more people opposed to affirmative action in Michigan than those who support it, and therefore it should be easy for Connerly to get the required signatures to place the proposal on the ballot.
Rowley was referring to a survey conducted by The Associated Press last month which said 52 percent of Michigan residents oppose affirmative action.
— Daily Staff Reporter Alison Go contributed to the report.