“They say Jim Crow, we say hell no!”
“Affirmative action will not die, MCRI is a big fat lie!”
The familiar sounds of protesters could be heard at Lawrence Technological University, the site of last night’s affirmative action debate between Ward Connerly, the former University of California regent who opposes affirmative action and Frank Wu, dean of Wayne State University’s law school.
Connerly is the leader of the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative – a proposal that would ban the use of racial and gender preferences in government hiring and University admissions in the state if approved by voters next fall. This year, proponents of MCRI collected enough signatures to place the initiative on the 2006 ballot.
More than fifty people – including students from Mumford High School in Detroit and several nearby college campuses – gathered outside LTU’s Ridler Field House to protest Connerly’s appearance and his argument against affirmative action policies.
“The main reason behind this picket is to shine light on the racially targeted voter fraud of MCRI,” said LSA senior and BAMN organizer Monica Smith. “We want to tell voters that MCRI is not for affirmative action like they were told.”
Smith was referring to claims by opponents of MCRI that signatures collected to place the initiative on the ballot were done so using fraudulent means.
Opponents of MCRI have charged that Michigan residents who signed a petition to end affirmative action were told they were actually supporting race-based policies when signing.
Smith and the other picketers also encountered resistance from a group of students protesting BAMN. The University’s most vocal pro-affirmative action group, BAMN has often been criticized for its radical activism.
LSA senior Matthew Gage, who protested BAMN, said it is possible to raise awareness for affirmative action without using violence.
“BAMN sees affirmative action as the way to go about further integrating minorities into society, but we see other ways to accomplish this,” Gage said. “They think we’re racist. But the mindset should not be that (they) need extra points to make it.”
Inside, Connerly debated the implications of affirmative action with Wu.
“There is an academic gap – let’s admit that,” Connerly said. “But we have to close the gap not by applying different standards to different people.”
But Wu said that when you take into consideration the stereotypes of different minorities – such as the Asian ‘model minority’ stereotype – and the varying quality of different institutions, the standards cannot be equally applied. Affirmative action is needed to counteract stereotypes of women and minorities, Wu said.
“We shouldn’t characterize affirmative action as a handout,” Wu said. “No one is in favor of discrimination on any basis.”
Wu added that affirmative action supports the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
“It will make (the act’s) claims a reality and ensure that people can study where they want to study and live where they want to live,” he said.
In addition to the planned dialogue, Connerly and Wu responded to audience members’ questions regarding the use of legacy preferences and point systems for college admissions, as well as their outlook for the future of race relations in America.
Wu said that while he is optimistic about the nation’s civil rights progress, he also realizes that affirmative action is a necessary yet insufficient step in the fight to eliminate the continuing racial disparities in America.
“We as a nation believe our institutions should be inclusive, but the question remains as to how to attain these ideals,” Wu said. “We must rededicate ourselves again and again to a diverse democracy.”
But allowing government intervention on the basis of racial preference is not the answer, according to Connerly.
Affirmative action presumes that minorities need the extra help without giving them the chance to meet the standards, Connerly said.
“It is inappropriate for the government to choose sides between its citizens. My government shouldn’t discriminate for me or against me,” Connerly said. “You can fuzz it up and call it diversity or affirmative action but it is racial discrimination.”