The University Record, November 26, 1997

Students express views on racism, discrimination

Alok Agrawal (left) and William Youmans share their views on diversity at the U-M. Photo by Bob Kalmbach

By Rebecca A. Doyle

"Many people who look like me are sitting back in Detroit because they can't believe they could ever succeed or be accepted at the University of Michigan," said Dilbert Sanders, an undergraduate student in political science and African American studies. "They are locked out of America's resources and locked into hopelessness."

Sanders and eight other students addressed an audience of nearly 100 people on the fourth night of "Affirmative Action 101: Understanding the Controversy." The student panel discussion was sponsored by the Michigan Student Assembly Women's Issues Commission. Agreeing on one basic issue--that racism has no place at the University of Michigan--they voiced differing opinions on what constitutes racism, diversity and discrimination.

Gregory Hillson, an LS&A junior, said those definitions are imperative.

"We need to define diversity. I believe in diversity of ideas, perspectives, beliefs--not skin color, gender or race."

Hillson said he opposes affirmative action because he thinks it hurts minorities in the long run. The focus should be on education in the K-12 sector in order to prepare everyone equally well for entrance examinations.

Mark Potts, also an LS&A junior and president of the College Republicans, said he disagrees with the University's policy on affirmative action because it is discriminatory.

"These policies are antithetical to the goals of a society trying to eliminate racism," he said. "To discriminate in any form is wrong."

William Youmans, LS&A sophomore, said he supports affirmative action, but came with an open mind to listen to other views.

"I believe people were born with an equal opportunity," he said, "but when I look around, I see that much of that potential is not being fulfilled." Youmans cited wage discrepancies and underrepresentation in higher education.

"I don't think that affirmative action is the only answer, and I support what people have said about starting at the base of the problem," he continued, referring to earlier statements about equality in education at the K-12 level.

"But I don't think there should be a substitution of one for the other."

David Burden, a College of Engineering senior, said that he would like to see a student referendum on affirmative action. Burden, who spent the last several years in California, said that MSA should put an issue on the ballot so that there would be a better idea of how all students felt.

Alok Agrawal, a sophomore in the College of Engineering and representative of the Liberty Party, said he thinks affirmative action policies put education spending "on the back burner" and take away the focus that should be on early education.

"All I ask as a proponent of equality is that all students not be judged by uncontrollable racial traits."

Neela Ghoshal, an LS&A senior, addressed four of the arguments against affirmative action in her remarks--that admission to the U-M should be based on a student's work, that affirmative action is antithetical to the goal of a color-blind society, that affirmative action breeds resentment in whites and in men, and that the policy sends unqualified graduates into society.

"If the U-M took people based only on their scores, their grades, 90 percent of those they accepted would be white women from the East Coast," she asserted. "The large number of people of color on this campus shows that people of color can be successful."

Ghoshal also said equality between men and women and among the races, as well as respect for each other, would diminish any resentment over time, and that the U-M does not send unqualified graduates of any race or gender into society.

Marita Etcubanez graduated from the U-M last May and is a first-year law student here. Etcubanez came to the discussion to dispel some of the myths about Asian Americans, and to urge Asian Americans not to let themselves be used to attack other minorities.

There is a general misconception, she said, that Asian Americans have higher incomes and have no need for affirmative action measures.

"In truth," she said, "Asian Americans earn about 11 percent less than whites. In general, the Asian American household has more wage-earners" giving the misleading figures based on household income rather than per capita income.

Jessica Curtin, LS&A senior and a representative of the Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action By Any Means Necessary (BAMN), said that "affirmative action is too little, too late" but told the audience that it would be "ridiculous" to take it away. She likened the fight about the current lawsuit against the University to the civil rights movement of the 1960s, saying that she and BAMN were "fighting for the original principles of the civil rights movement" and that statements by people like state Rep. David Jaye, who opposes affirmative action and encouraged the lawsuit against the University, were "all lies, all hypocrisy."

Students who spoke on the panel and those who asked questions after the presentation stayed within the boundaries set by Student Mediation Services moderator Scott Pence, limiting their questions and responses. Pence, an LS&A senior, noted in his opening remarks that he hoped participants would respect those who held differing opinions.