Student activists told the audience of an affirmative action panel discussion yesterday that an Oct. 23 appeals court hearing of the two lawsuits against the University”s admission policies will be a milestone for civil rights.

Paul Wong
LSA senior Erika Dowdell shares her experiences in defending affirmative action as Rackham student Jessica Curtin looks on.<br><br>ABBY ROSENBAUM/Daily

The public forum gave leaders of the Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action and Integration and Fight for Equality By Any Means Necessary an opportunity to explain their vision for the future of the affirmative action movement.

Members of the panel stressed the growing importance of their efforts as Oct. 23 approaches. On that date, the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati will review the lawsuits challenging the race-sensitive admissions policies of the Law School and the College of Literature, Science and the Arts.

“The movement is picking up steam,” said Caroline Wong, one of the four BAMN members that made up the panel.

“There are moments when you can turn the tide of history that”s what this moment is.”

BAMN is mounting a campaign to obtain signatures supporting its cause before the hearing. Its members hope to use the petitions to show the massive public support they believe exists for affirmative action.

“Overwhelming numbers of people support integration and affirmative action,” said Rackham student Jessica Curtin, a panelist and BAMN leader.

“We have to deal with a conservative judiciary who is willing to go against what the public wants.”

Curtin accused the Center for Individual Rights of exploiting the plaintiffs in the lawsuits. The CIR filed the lawsuit against LSA on behalf of Jennifer Gratz, who was denied admission to the University as an undergraduate, and the suit against the Law School on behalf of rejected applicant Barbara Grutter.

“The CIR specifically looked for these two women to use them as their tools,” she said.

LSA junior Agnes Aleobula, another BAMN leader and panelist, said affirmative action in college admissions is not BAMN”s only goal but rather a starting point for fixing a larger problem in society.

“The society we live in now is more segregated than the Jim Crow South,” Aleobua said.

“Michigan is one of the most segregated states in the country,” added LSA senior Erika Dowdell, the fourth member of the panel.

A major focus of the event was to discuss the connection between the affirmative action movement and the women”s movement. Aleobula said that the issues are inseparable.

“The fight for affirmative action right now is an opportunity to open up the door to struggles for so much more,” she said. “I don”t choose to fight sexism one day and racism the next. Many of the people who benefit from affirmative action are women. I don”t think the two have to be separated at all.”

The forum was one of a series designed to highlight the importance of gender to the affirmative action debate. The Institute for Research on Women and Gender, the women”s studies department, and the Center for Afro-American and African Studies sponsored the series, which continues Oct. 11.

Rebecca Madden-Sturges, an LSA senior, came to the forum out of curiosity about BAMN. She said she agrees with the views the activists expressed and admires their efforts on behalf of affirmative action.

“They are very committed to the issue. They are creating change on this campus and elsewhere and I respect that,” she said.

Aleobula said she takes that commitment very seriously.

“We have an accountability to the people in our country to fight that is the ever-driving force that keeps me going,” she said.

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