With much debate surrounding the Michigan Civil Rights
Initiative’s effect on race-conscious issues, its impact on
women’s programs and scholarships at the University has gone
virtually unnoticed.

“People are very much surprised that gender has anything
to do with (the initiative),” said Cinda Davis, director of
Women in Science and Engineering. “This potentially has a
large impact on women that people need to realize.”

The MCRI supports a ballot initiative that, if passed, would
eliminate the use of race, gender and national origin in public
policies and institutions. The initiative would effectively
eliminate the University’s race-conscious admissions
policies.

Although school policies ban administrators from supporting or
opposing MCRI in the name of the University, a group of University
staff and faculty members has been convened to “research and
educate the public” and to discuss the consequences of the
passage of MCRI, said Susan Kaufmann, acting director of the Center
of the Education of Women.

“(The administration needs) to determine what the impact
is going to be and what we should do about it,” Davis said.
“We’re just not sure what the impact will
be.”

When it comes to programs geared toward women, MCRI will mostly
affect them indirectly.

Most University women’s programs would not be eliminated,
and in CEW, for example, many of the programs and services, like
the library and counseling, are “designed for women but still
are and always have been open to men,” Kaufmann said.

Similarly, because the initiative only applies to public
programs and most scholarships are private, MCRI will have a
minimal direct effect on these institutions, like scholarships for
women in engineering, said Justin Lacroix, an LSA sophomore and
coordinator for the MCRI on campus.

However, MCRI may have a significant impact on recruiting and
persuading women to attain a college-level education, especially in
fields uncommonly chosen by women.

Kaufmann said because women already earn less in the workforce
and often are overly burdened by divorce and childcare,
“(they will be even) more discouraged in pursuing student
loans and scholarships.”

MCRI could also discourage girls in primary and secondary
schools from studying engineering and science in the future,
Kaufmann said.

However, MCRI insists that it is not the responsibility of the
University or government to give students something based on their
gender or race,” Lacroix said.

“If there is a disadvantage to women and minorities other
than education, the problem that needs to be solved is the
recruitment and secondary education,” he added.
“Outreach programs would not be affected and pretty much
everyone (in MCRI) is in favor of outreach programs.”

On the pre-emptive front, the need for education about
MCRI’s effect on women’s issues is a sentiment echoed
by the leadership of CEW and WISE.

“I think if there was more public understanding of the
issue of gender, there would be much more opposition (to the
initiative),” Kaufmann said.

Kate Stenvig, an LSA senior and member of BAMN, said she agrees
that the question of women’s equality has always been linked
to affirmative action, but added that refocusing opposition to MCRI
on women’s issues instead of race could be detrimental to
their cause.

“The attack on affirmative action has traditionally been
on race-based issues. … We need to take head-on the issue of
racism,” Stenvig said. “I don’t think taking the
emphasis off of race is effective.”

Supporters of MCRI disagree with Stenvig’s assertion that
the initiative is a sexist and racist attack.

“There is nothing in the MCRI that is trying to hold women
back, minorities back or anyone back,” Lacroix said.
“We just want to take away the discrimination of people
outside of character and intellect.”

In the end, administrators worry about the impact MCRI will have
on women and society in the long run.

“A mother’s education level is the strongest
prediction of a child’s educational attainment. There is a
vested interest in a women’s education,” Kaufmann said.
“We really need to invest more in educating women.”

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