Affirmative action has helped ensure access to higher education for students and faculty who might not have had that chance otherwise. Now that affirmative action programs are battling for their very existence, the editors and writers of Black Issues In Higher Education present the following pointers and reminders that have been gleaned from interviews, research and discussions in preparation for this special report.
#1 Ensure Black College Prosperity
God bless the child that’s got its own.
What African Americans have had for more than 100 years are the historically Black colleges and universities.
Established to educate Black students when white colleges would not, historically Black colleges and universities continue to be a critical avenue of education for Blacks and, to some extent, others as well. And despite the progress made by Blacks on readitionally white campuses, the core of Black educational progress still lies on the Black college campus.
Unfortunately, too many graduates and supporters of these colleges have given little more than lip service to support them. This lack of strong, concerted political support has permitted state politicians, lawmakers, and even well-meaning civil rights groups to take swipes at predominantly Black schools without fear of retribution. Just recently a New York congressman questioned the need for the University of the District of Columbia to exist. Even a cursory glance at the rankings in this edition attests to the significance of these institutions.
#2 Go Back to the Drawing Board
Bad cases make bad law.
Those in a position to draft affirmative action guidelines should carefully craft them so that they will not be vulnerable to legal challenge.
The University of Texas Law School’s affirmative action program, challenged in Hopwood vs. the State of Texas, was flawed from the beginning. The school literally created separate admissions programs — one for Hispanic and Black students and one for whites, That approach was changed by the law school later, but Hopwood, which has sent affirmative action into a tailspin, turned on the earlier approach.
Similarly, the procedures followed by the University of Maryland in granting scholarships to Black students that led to the Podberesky vs. Kirwan case were flawed. The university set up a scholarship program for which only Black students were qualified and which easily lent itself to a successful challenge.
With a wealth of legal brainpower supporting affirmative action programs, it is unacceptable not to have legally defensible programs in place.
#3 Stay Alert for mini-Assaults on Affirmative Action
Don’t fall asleep at the wheel.
Most affirmative action debates are fought on a day-to-day basis in faculty senates, admissions and planning offices, human resource programs and board rooms across the nation. Long before headlines announce another successful challenge to an affirmative action policy, someone has allowed a program or policy shift to go forward that results in adverse outcomes for minority students, faculty or administrators.
For example, the increasingly common practice of requiring unnecessarily high grade-point averages to enter certain academic departments has had a devastating effect on the ability of minority students to gain degrees in some of the most attractive majors.
When possible, work with your institutional or organizational affirmative action officer to ensure that access is protected. Too often the only time that the affirmative action officer is consulted is when a discrimination charge, is being filed.
#4 Make Philanthrophy a Habit
He who pays the piper calls the tune.
While you don’t need to be an Oprah Winfrey or a Bill or Camille Cosby to give money, I their donations to colleges serve as rich examples for what needs to be done.
All institutions and programs depend on financial support from their alumni and supporters. It is by giving that we can muster the clout to influence polices and the direction of universities and their programs.
We also have some very dedicated people who have unselfishly taken on some of our most pressing issues. Yet because of our lack of giving, they run out of money too soon, tire or cannot afford to take the proper stances on controversial issues for fear of alienating their small network of supporters.
#5 Build Strategic Coalitions
Agree without being disagreeable.
Beyond a few meetings at major hotels and on a few campuses, we’ve pretty much gone our separate ways along social and organizational lines of separation. Progressive organizations need to determine where they agree, where they disagree, and move in unison on points of agreement while not allowing the points of disagreement to impede progress. You don’t have to be in total agreement in order to make progress.
The recent decision by Howard University and the American Jewish Committee to jointly publish a magazine, “Common Quest,” is one example of coalition building. Another example of collaboration that brings concrete results is the Arlanta University/Georgia Tech engineering program,
#6 Organize, Organize, Organize
A chain is no stronger than its weakest link.
Year in and year out hundreds of meetings are held by diversity and equity professionals, progressive scholars and diversity advocates, yet to date there exists no effective, permanent organization that represents the interests of Black, Hispanic, Native American and other minority students and faculty at traditionally white institutions. As a result, the divide-and-conquer process has been very effective.
THE COLLEGE FUND/UNCF represents the interests of private historically Black colleges, National Association for Educational Opportunity represents the interests of the private and publicly-funded historically Black colleges and universities, HACU represents the interests of the Hispanic-serving institutions and the American Indian Education Association represents Native American colleges. However, there is no comparable organization to represent the interests of most Black and minority students, who are overwhelming enrolled on majority white campuses.
Such an organization should operate in every one of the states and Washington DC in order to argue the case for equal access to higher education for all minorities.
#7 Become Active in Outreach Efforts
Role modeling is great, but effective mentorship is better.
We too often confuse showcasing our personal and professional successes to young people — that is, role modeling — with active mentorship. A few colleges have well-structured mentorship programs in which faculty, students and administrators are not just encouraged but rewarded for active mentorship.
To make sure minority students are prepared to take on the challenges of getting a higher education, institutions need to lead outreach programs throughout the K-12 school systems. Student volunteer programs often don’t go nearly far enough, but programs like Boston University’s organization of the Chelsea school district is exemplary.
And individuals need to become educationa experts. Challenge the prevailing wisdom that “affirmative action just doesn’t work” by becoming thoroughly familiar with the data, statistics and facts.
Make sure that the data your state and local school district reports is disaggregated by gender, ethnicity and income to make sure that any new school reforms don’t just benefit easy-to-help students or leave children behind the way other reforms have done.
#8 Recipients, Come Forward
Confession is good for the soul.
If you benefitted from affirmative action, say so. Many people have consistently denied that affirmative action had anything to do with their educational attainment or upward mobility. This, in spite of stellar scholarly and professional accomplishments beyond their admission to college or selection for employment.
The fact is, few people at the top got there without a helping hand. George Bush made his millions with a little boost of a $1 million gift from Dad. There was nothing wrong with that as long as he doesn’t claim he never got any help from anyone. Many of those who bemoan the “lack of standards” in college admissions were themselves beneficiaries of alumni preference — a time-tested and court-approved form of affirmative action.
So follow the example of author A.J. Verdelle who stated, as she received the prestigious PEN/Faulkner Award for her first novel, The Good Negress, “I don’t think the University of Chicago would have been coming for me with a wheelbarrow if there hadn’t been affirmative action.
#9 Send a Message on November 4, 1996
Don’t forget the power of the ballot.
The presidential election, the California Civil Rights Initiative, and the North Carolina Senate race between Harvey Gantt and Sen. Jesse Helms (R-NC), who is running on an anti-affirmative action platform, all provide opportunities to regain the progressive momentum. Seldom have the pro- and anti-affirmative action forces been so clearly presented. And when the composition of the Supreme Court, federal judiciary and the U.S. Congress, along with the shift to state rights, are considered, the significance of the effective use of the ballot becomes very evident.
COPYRIGHT 1996 Cox, Matthews & Associates
© Copyright 2005 by DiverseEducation.com