The University Record, March 11, 1998

Teach-ins, rally mark day supporting affirmative action

Panelists Marc Rosenbaum (second from left), Lance Jones, Maria Montoya and Margarita de la Vega-Hurtado spoke to students during the National Day of Action late last month. First-year law student Nicole Brovet (far left) moderated the panel discussion. Photo by Bob Kalmbach

By Rebecca A. Doyle

Panel discussions, speakers, teach-ins and a rally were all organized by Law Students for Affirmative Action and United for Affirmative Action for the Feb. 24 National Day of Action in support of the University¹s affirmative action policies.

Citing information he had been given that morning, Marc Rosenbaum told the audience of mostly students at a teach-in in the Michigan Union Ballroom that "the latest data from San Diego is that there are now zero contracts with women and minority contractors." Rosenbaum, a California lawyer opposing Proposition 209 in that state, joined Lance Jones, assistant professor of law and a student and participant in the first BAM strike at the U-M in the 1970s, on a panel to address the social and practical perspectives on affirmative action. Also on the panel were Maria Montoya, assistant professor of history, and Margarita de la Vega-Hurtado, lecturer in the Program in American Culture.

"Distortions have moved affirmative action away from its original goals," Rosenbaum asserted. "Affirmative action was not supposed to be a replacement for equal opportunity. It was a poor man's replacement for funding in the field of education for minority schools." Public schools in which the majority of the students were not white were less well-funded than those that had a larger population of white students, he said.

Jones outlined the history of the move for affirmative action on the U-M campus from the 1970s to the present for students to "understand the legacy you are carrying forward."

Enrollment of Black students was an issue in each of the years that affirmative action sentiment rose to the top of the campus list of issues. The 1970 movement brought national attention to the U-M campus, he said, and among the demands on the list was an increase in the enrollment of Black students to 900. In 1975, when the enrollment goal had not been reached, students protested the administration's "dragging its feet."

In 1987, sentiment surrounding apartheid in South Africa again pushed the issue to the forefront and, coupled with racist graffiti and flyers on campus, sparked what Jones called BAM III. That year, an unreached goal of 10 percent Black enrollment and demands that 30 percent of department chairs be Black led to a blockade of the Union and sit-ins in the Fleming Administration Building.

Affirmative action policies affect women, too, Montoya said. Gender equality in the classroom does not prepare students for what happens in the business world, she noted. Women who work still do most of the work in the home and are still responsible for most of the child care, she said. "Caregiving takes one and one-half years of working women's lives. The result is that women have to work twice as hard as men," Montoya said.

She has had a positive experience as a student at U-M, de la Vegas-Hurtado said of her own years as a student here.

"When I was a GSI in 1987, I saw white students face that fact that there was such a thing as race for the first time," she said, noting that affirmative action also was profitable for these students as an educational experience. "I met students who had never seen a Black person in their lives." She told students that it is important to learn about others. "The more diversity, the richer your life."

After the morning teach-ins, students gathered together with high school students from Detroit on the Diag to share their experiences and to tell how important affirmative action is to them.