By Rachel Green
and Elizabeth Kassab
Daily Staff Reporters
CINCINNATI Carting 19-inch televisions and piles of clothing out of their residence halls, University of Cincinnati students leaving for winter break bustle past gold-colored flyers and magic-markered posters spreading the word about a rally on campus and march to the Potter Stewart U.S. Courthouse, where the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals will hear two cases challenging the University of Michigan”s admissions policies today.
“I can”t honestly say that we have a lot of support, but the people we do have are very adamant,” said Jeena Jarrett-Gray, a member of the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
After nearly five years of legal wrangling, the lawsuits challenging Michigan”s use of race in undergraduate and law school admissions move to one step away from the U.S. Supreme Court today.
Thousands of high school and college students are expected to follow attorneys for the University, the Center for Individual Rights and the intervening defendants to this city on Ohio”s southern border, where each side will have a matter of minutes in both cases to convince the nine judges on the appeals court whether affirmative action has a place in college admissions.
The pair of lawsuits, which were filed by Washington-based CIR in 1997 on behalf of white applicants who were denied admission to Michigan, come into today”s hearing as the only cases challenging race-conscious admissions that are still on track for the Supreme Court, where they could set a new national standard.
Today”s rally and march will be the second in Cincinnati in support of Michigan”s admissions policies. The cases were originally scheduled to be heard by a panel of three appeals court judges, and while the hearing was delayed so it could go before the full court, protesters went ahead with a rally and march on Oct. 23 as planned.
Jarrett-Gray said the time since the delay has been used to garner more signatures on a petition that is to be submitted to the judges during the trial. The petition now has about 40,000 signatures from across the country, Jarrett-Gray said.
“We encourage a peaceful demonstration We respect the law, but we also want to get our point across,” Jarrett-Gray said, adding that she feels the slogan used by many affirmative action supporters “By Any Means Necessary” may be too extreme.
Jarrett-Gray said the NAACP has been working closely with the University of Michigan”s chapter of the Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action and Integration and Fight for Equality By Any Means Necessary, despite initial concerns on the part of the NAACP that BAMN”s philosophy was not exactly in line with its own. Together, the two organizations cooperated in coordinating a host of events to precede today”s hearing at 1:30 p.m.
The University of Cincinnati”s student government has also taken a vested interest in these cases, holding forums and seminars to educate students about affirmative action and the lawsuits.
“If they rule unfavorably for University of Michigan”s admissions, affirmative action could end next fall in all four states,” said Rob Richardson, the University of Cincinnati”s student body president.
The Law School admissions policy was struck down at the district court level, while another judge upheld the undergraduate policy.
Student body vice-president Angela Wilson said she expects protesters to take the result of today”s hearing in stride. A ruling from the court is expected sometime next year.
“The students here are ready to more forward, whatever the decision here, because we know this is going to move forward to the Supreme Court,” she said.
Buses carrying students from four Detroit high schools with University of Michigan students acting as chaperones left yesterday afternoon.
They were to spend the night at a church with the Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth, a vocal Cincinnati civil rights activist who used to march with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
“I have a feeling there”s not going to be a lot of sleeping,” said Rackham student Jessica Curtin, a member of BAMN. “I have a feeling there”s going to be a lot of discussion.”
“Everyone is excited and looking forward to it,” she added. About 50 people were to leave Ann Arbor for Cincinnati as early as 4 a.m. today, in addition to the 120 who left yesterday afternoon, Curtin said. Two buses are also leaving from Eastern Michigan University.
The rain that is expected in Cincinnati today may only serve to increase the marchers” determination, Curtin said.
Protesters were planning to congregate this morning on the University of Cincinnati”s campus and walk to nearby Hughes High School, where the high school students will join them in their march through the streets of Cincinnati to the courthouse. Thousands of protesters are expected to converge on Fountain Square, Richardson said.
But other students have not heard much about the hearing. “I see signs and stuff,” said Cincinnati freshman Nick Rotter, who said he was against affirmative action before October, when he spontaneously joined the march downtown. He talked to other students there and gained some more insight into the issue but still has some reservations.
“I think it has good intentions but it goes about it the wrong way.
Today”s hearing comes near the end of final exams for University of Cincinnati students, which officially conclude tomorrow.
“A good number of students are so wrapped up with exams and moving back, (the lawsuits) haven”t really merited the attention they would have,” said junior Chris Paul, a resident adviser at Calhoun Residence Hall.