Affirmative Action: A Black/White Issue?

Brad Hock

Last Tuesday the Debate Society hosted a debate between the college republicans and college democrats. Following sophomore Grafton Connor’s introductory overview of the event, Dean of the College and Vice President of the University Charlotte Johnson gave a brief history of the civil rights movement in the United States for Blacks.

She said that affirmative action was first mentioned in 1961, during the Civil Rights Movement. In 1964 and 1965, President Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act, respectively. In 1978, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that racial quotas were not allowed. It became the burden for corporations to incriminate themselves in order to be convicted of breaching affirmative action laws.

Sophomore Zach Mancher, a representative of the College Democrats, was first to speak. He proposed a definition of affirmative action and argued that affirmative action effectively dispels disparities in social groups.

He mentioned the case of need-blind elite institutions, such as Yale, Harvard and Princeton, saying that, without affirmative action, minority students would not get the chance to attend such institutions because their finances are not on par with those of white students. He argued that legacies also inhibit the influx of minorities to first-rate colleges, but proposed no effective legislation or quota to prohibit legacies from dominating colleges’ demographics.

Next spoke senior Kevin Glass, a College Republican. He mentioned how Hubert Humphrey, “like a politician, defaulted his promise” of preventing affirmative action from being enacted.

He quoted statistics to show that the poverty rate of black Americans dropped severely before the Civil Rights Act was established, and how it only dipped slightly after the Act’s passage. He advocated “eliminating preferential treatment” because elite institutions were seeing “mismatching”-an imbalance due to the acceptance of under-qualified, underperforming students and the subsequent inequity of not admitting students with superior academic standing.

First-year Safwan Shabab, another College Democrat, was third to speak.

“Diversity in the workplace increases productivity,” he said, adding that, when a company is internally diverse it can better serve an externally diverse demographic. He referenced that it is the first time in U.S. history where the Secretary of State is African-American. When asked whether this was due to affirmative action, he answered in the negative.

Junior Marty Pinnes was last to speak. He claimed that affirmative action legislation was “one of the millions of ethnic problems [in America].” He thought affirmative action would do away with the American “intersection of global talent” and advocated providing “equity of access to tertiary education.”

Pinnes also mentioned that affirmative action had not been able to meet new challenges. He underscored the main problem with affirmative action: Hispanic Americans and those of multiethnic groups are not included in the affirmative action legislation.

After the debate on the floor, it opened to questions from the audience. One audience member accused the Republicans for creating “a mathematical sleight-of-hand” in citing a statistic that showed the rate of black Americans who earn an equal or greater income of that of average white Americans. The audience member argued that as the gap between the average incomes closes, the rate at which they become congruent lessens – the situation akin to the struggle of losing the last few pounds in a dieting program. It was not mentioned that the discrepancy of the rate could be the result of the ever-complex political and economic state of post-WWII America.

The debate and questions followed suit of the introductory statement by Dean Johnson.

“There is a lot at stake here,” she said. “[It is one of the] hot button issues that strikes our emotions.”