American Association for Affirmative Action Conference Highlights Policy Action Themes

FALLS CHURCH, Va. — Last week, the American Association for Affirmative Action held its 34th annual conference in the Washington, D.C., area in a bid to influence Capitol Hill policymakers during a pivotal election year. Diversity officers from governments, colleges and corporations heard from a number of prominent civil rights leaders including Urban League President Marc Morial, who said pressure to emphasize the importance of diversity must be brought to bear on whomever is elected president.

“Thinking very long and hard about what we want to see in the candidates — the one thing that is basic is that there must be a strong commitment to the enforcement of this nation’s civil rights laws,” Morial said.

He added that under the current administration, civil rights units of federal agencies have been stripped of their money and power, and “in some cases signals have been sent that these laws are not to be actively enforced.” Morial noted, “Populating the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division with people who are opposed to civil rights is an act of complete dishonor and disrespect. And I believe, fundamentally, that one of the most important commitments the next president can make, the next Congress can make — just enforce the rule of law.”

Also, Viola O. Baskerville, the secretary of administration for the state of Virginia and the second Black Cabinet official in Virginia’s history, emphasized the trailblazing diversity role of Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine (D), a former civil rights attorney.

“His philosophy of inclusiveness and integration has carried over to this philosophy that the face of government should reflect those that it is responsible for. His Cabinet and senior leadership are the most diverse in Virginia’s history,” she said. “Women decide procurement and finance issues throughout the state; women decide appointments and health and policy issues of the state.”

In the most notable conference session focusing on higher education diversity initiatives, University of Michigan Associate Vice Provost John Matlock and UM Office of Academic Multicultural Initiatives researcher Katrina Wade-Golden talked about the University of Michigan’s efforts to cope with the successful Ward Connery-backed campaign to ban affirmative action. Matlock and Wade-Golden highlighted results of a diversity survey of UM students who were undergraduates from 1990-1994.

A recent survey was sent to these students 10 years later to gauge the concrete benefits of having been part of a diverse group of UM undergraduates in the early ’90s. What UM researchers found were examples of concrete benefits like a doctor saying he would not have been able to relate as well with a diverse group of patients if the UM student body was as homogenously White in the ’90s as the neighborhood he grew up in.

Also, Matlock railed against affirmative action opponents who say awarding diversity points to male applicants to UM’s nursing program, for instance, will in effect cause a Black applicant to take the spot of a White applicant.

“At Michigan this year, we have 29,000 applications for 5,500 slots. Somebody’s not getting in,” Matlock said. He added that if UM didn’t accept any minority applicants, a White applicant’s chances “of getting in goes up about 1 percent. So it’s a fallacy to say ‘someone took my place.’ When you say somebody took my place, it’s one of the most arrogant statements that I’ve ever heard — you’re basically assuming that you were next in line, and anybody else is without merit.”

Also, Christine M. Griffin, commissioner of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, spoke eloquently and forcefully about the need to expand access to job opportunities for disabled Americans.

“There’s no reason for any employer, public or private, to shy away from having an affirmative action plan targeting workers with disabilities,” Griffin said. She added that in her experience having been disabled for 27 years, the workplace is where barriers to access for disabled Americans truly fall as they enter mainstream society.

For more information on the American Association for Affirmation Action, visit the organization of the Web at http://www.affirmativeaction.org/.

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