University students are once again delving into the debate about race in public education. This time, though, it’s not affirmative action that’s mobilizing them. It’s voluntary integration of K-12 schools.
Just fewer than 40 students and other activists loaded a bus on South University Avenue on Sunday night bound for Washington. There, they joined others from across the country to protest in front of the Supreme Court yesterday.
It was the first of three days on which the high court will hear arguments on two lawsuits challenging the legality of voluntary integration programs for public schools in Louisville and Seattle. The programs allow school districts to consider race in assigning students to district schools as a way to ensure that each school’s racial makeup reflects that of the entire system. It’s an attempt to offset the segregation that often results from neighborhood housing patterns.
The lawsuits are primarily concerned with K-12 education, but depending on how the decision is worded and how it’s argued, it could affect the University.
If the court decides to ban desegregation programs, it could open up the possibility that the court would overturn Grutter v. Bollinger, the landmark 2003 decision that upheld the Law School’s use of affirmative action in its admissions policy.
A ban on the desegregation programs could affect the University’s potential legal efforts to maintain its affirmative action programs, which were banned by last month’s passage of Proposal 2.
Karen Tabb, a graduate student in the School of Social Work, said a ban on desegregation programs could have far-reaching effects on the University, even to the point of overturning mandates outlined in the 1954 case Brown v. Board of Education.
She said University students’ presence in Washington demonstrates their dedication to an issue that’s relevant to them.
“We must demonstrate that our University is still involved and committed to racial diversity in education,” Tabb said in an e-mail interview.
Many students cited the potential impact on the University.
“It’s important to save diversity,” said Lauren Davis, also a graduate student in the School of Social Work. “We had a really big problem at Michigan, and it affects me as a student here.”
LSA sophomore Maggie Horne said the event has a lot in common with past struggles for civil rights.
Student members of NAACP, the Association of Black Social Work Students, By Any Means Necessary and a host of other groups attended the event. The School of Social Work organized the trip, providing the bus for anyone in need of transportation. Social Work students raised money for the bus through bake sales and other fundraising. In the end, they collected barely enough money.
BAMN organizer Luke Massie said one of the central problems with the issue of racial integration has been a lack of exposure.
“It’s been so under the radar,” he said. “But everywhere we’ve gone we have found overwhelming support for integration policies.”
Maricruz Lopez, co-chair of the University’s BAMN chapter, said it’s hard to make people understand what is at stake.
“Everyone we’ve talked to has shown an interest in this,” she said. “It’s a matter of simply explaining. When we do that, people immediately respond and want to organize.”
Tabb said marching for desegregation is closely related to the School of Social Work’s principles of advocating social justice and fighting for equality. She said her role as a social worker makes it her duty to work for diversity and publicize important issues.
“Our student demonstration at the Supreme Court could have an immeasurable impact on public sentiments and show that the public is well aware of the cases reviewed,” she said.