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Northeastern University Hosts Race Relations Conference

Northeastern University Hosts Race Relations Conference


Affirmative action and life after the University of Michigan cases dominated discussions last month at a two-day conference at Northeastern University in Boston.
The conference, “Race Relations on College Campuses: New Dimensions of Inclusion,” climaxed with a town meeting. The panel included John Alger, legal counsel for the University of Michigan, Dr. Evelyn Hu-DeHart, director of the Center for the Study of Race and Ethnicity in America at Brown University, Scott Palmer, attorney with Nixon Peabody, and Dr. Ronald Bailey, professor of African American history at Northeastern University.
Alger expressed that, though the University of Michigan cases were a victory for affirmative action, advocates are far from raising the “mission accomplished’ banner.
“Race is still an issue, color blindness doesn’t mean being blind to context and history,” Alger said. “Until race is looked at in an individual and holistic way we cannot claim to have reached our goal.”
According to Alger, even with the recent challenges, affirmative action in higher education is a great success story envied around the world. He stated the policy is not set in stone and should be subject to periodic review in order to keep it effective and growing with a changing society.
Bailey said affirmative action is not a perfect system and that in order to improve the effectiveness there needs to be a movement. “We may not have it together but maybe together we can have it all,” Bailey said. He advocates that a movement on the broadest of scales will induce change in societal practices and attitudes. Science would be an emphasis in his movement, Bailey said.
“Many humanities scholars don’t like to talk about science, we need to drive home the fact that all people are 99 percent alike and that is scientific,” he said.
According to the panelists, affirmative action is a step in the right direction, but in higher education, the larger issues to look at are financial aid and retention.
Hu-DeHart said that affirmative action does not solve socio-economic discrimination in higher education. “Affirmative action is a limited liberal policy, it only really benefits the middle class, it does not address the concerns of class. It is not a scholarship program,” she said. She also said affirmative action cannot be the be-all-end-all of equality in higher education. “There needs to be more programs that address the larger issues of retention, financial aid and curriculum,” she said.
During the conference, panels addressed topics ranging from academic and corporate collaborations to achieve diversity, understanding the USA Patriot Act, strategies to build relationships between students and police, and a holistic approach to building cultural diversity in higher education. Participants also had the opportunity to discuss the American Indian experience on college campuses and transitioning new students’ expectations for race relations.

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