Within 24 hours UW Madison students organized a disruption of a press conference by an anti-diversity group and a rally and march to a debate sponsored by the Federalist Society that drew 2-3,000. They were responding to a report from CEO -the “Center for Equal Opportunity” – which claims that the UW’s admission practices incorporate “severe racial discrimination” when they take factors such as ethnicity into consideration. The message from this CEO report taken by this blogger is – “a right wing group is trying to say that affirmative action admission practices discriminate against white people”. After attending the debate between CEO’s Clegg and Professor Church last night, I would admit that the message is much more subtle than that, but the intention behind it is no less sinister.
This video from badgerherald shows UW-Madison students rallying and then disrupting the CEO press conference at the Doubletree hotel (which is conveniently located quite close to the UW Madison campus). Damon Williams, UW Vice Provost for Diversity and Climate, is interviewed at the 3:50 mark.
I wasn’t at the Doubletree hotel, but I made it to a Bascom Hall rally and marched down to the debate. As a white 40-something I was a definite minority in this crowd of 20-something mostly non-white people. I have the luxury of saying that I found it refreshing to step into a minority role on the Madison campus for that time. The campus – and my entire state of Wisconsin – is largely white. Back of the envelope for UW-Madison: 46,000 white and about 4,000 students who might call themselves “people of color”.
Yet more images on my facebook page.
The feeling of the rally was determination, not rage, but the students all seemed to burn bright – attentive, focused, ready.
As we marched down to the Union South building we had to cross the often busy multi-lane University Avenue but it proved to be no problem at that hour – roughly 6:30PM. We then walked through mainly student housing areas where some students -all seeming to be white- came out to sit on their porches or lean out windows to check out the noise. They quietly observed the scene, some taking handbills if they encountered us on the sidewalk.
My video shows the thousands marching from Bascom Hall, across University Avenue, and into Union South [chanting the whole way] as well as 3 questions delivered to debaters Clegg and Church by audience members.
When we got into the Union South building itself, the chanting stopped from door to ballroom entry–seemingly out of respect for the students eating and studying nearby. But when students entered the ballroom and assembled again the chanting took up in earnest with the volume elevated to Badgers-game-level – or in Spinal Tap parlance, “to eleven”.
One group called out, “We are” – the other group responds “BAD-GERS!”
“We are more than a score!
The call: “Power to the people!” The response: “Power to the people!” Together: “People power, people power!”
Considering how feisty and fired up as the crowd was, and how incendiary the topic, they stayed relatively settled during the debate between Roger Clegg and Professor Larry Church
They booed and hissed as CEO’s Clegg came out but shushed each other. The pattern of outburst followed by a stronger response of shushing would continue throughout the evening.
When Professor Church came out, the room filled with cheering and students stood up waving signs. If I can be permitted to state something obvious: the relationship between Church and the crowd is something I don’t see anywhere in pop culture or in life and that made it all the more powerful. I saw a professor in his 70’s, white and dressed in a suit, speaking in a muffled soft voice treated like a superstar by a mostly young, mostly brown crowd that sometimes cheered and sometimes snapped their fingers in response to a particular statement. That snapping response is something I’ve heard from spoken word audiences trained to stay relatively quiet so that the poet in front of them can continue unimpeded. So for the evening, Professor Church became a great white spoken word artist – you might call him the People’s Poet.
The visitor, Clegg, was granted the first 10 minute statement during the debate. Clegg’s points from my notes:
Affirmative action in admissions is a legal non-starter. The supreme court has rejected the argument that general racial discrimination is reason to admit somebody to school. ..Most people who get into school on racial preferences are middle class and not poor and even among the poor, you can not trace their poverty back to racism. On diversity: “The supreme court has bought this argument” for admission of minorities in to higher education. The trouble with diversity is it relies on stereotypes. It is saying that you can tell something about people’s backgrounds by seeing somebody’s skin color….
Seeing that his first 10 minutes were almost up, Clegg dropped all eloquence and rattled through what he considered the “costs” of a diversity policy in college admissions which he defined as “discriminating against people on the basis of race and ethnicity”, transcribed from my audio recording:
“It’s unfair. It’s divisive. It sets a bad precedent. It creates resentment. It stigmatizes people. It creates a victim mindset. It removes academic excellence It compromises the ethic and mission of the university. It creates pressure to lower grades and graduation standards.
It’s illegal. It mismatches individuals and institutions leading to guaranteed failure for some of the so-called beneficiaries.
[a woman in the crowd yelled “What?!”]
It papers over the real problems that we have in society for why the pipeline is so broken. It gets the government involved in the ugly game of determining which racial and ethnic groups do you favor and which ones do you discriminate against and how do you define how somebody is a member in each group?”
Professor Church then got his 10 minutes. My notes from his time: The issue is whether or not an admissions committee can take into account race and ethnicity, “from my point of view the answer to that is not only they may, but they must.” .. The declaration of independence of the United States declares that all men are created equal. “Affirmative action is an effort to make that realistic, not only historical.” He also referenced the 14th amendment to the constitution. which declares that no public body will deny anybody equal protection by the law. The crux of the argument is what does “equal” mean. Is it very technical such that equality remains skewed against groups divided by race.. “Or does it mean that groups which are distinguished by artificial characteristics like race or ethnicity should wind up being equally represented or equally treated, equally represented, in the system”
Church referenced a 1954 Topeka court decision that struck down segregation in schools as well as Brown vs. the Board of Education. Also, the 1978 “Bocky” case [I’m sorry – on the run today and won’t look this up] which dealt with specific quotes for med school at UC Davis. Four justices said the quota violated a federal statute and 4 justices said the quota system violated nothing. The swing vote became Powell- a moderate conservative. He said that a moderate affirmative action policy is acceptable so that a university may take into account factors beyond standardized tests. Eight years ago in the Grudder case [pressed for time-unsure of spelling], the U.S. Supreme Court addressed affirmative action again. Justice O’Connor said that some affirmative action is constitutionally permissible. “Modern affirmative action would appear to be clearly constitutional, unless the court changes its mind.”
Why would the court tolerate at least moderate affirmative action? The notion of federalism. We do not need a single answer. Why not say that if a state institution wishes to try moderate subdued affirmative action, let them test it out?
The people, through their legislatures, have tended to support affirmative action.
Reality in the world. The world population growth will be approximately 97% non-white. A country that allows a domination of for example law schools by only European-Americans will find it hard perhaps to make friends with other countries because the world is not only European.
In his 2nd ten minutes CEO’s Clegg said that a ballot initiative in Michigan against affirmative action passed overwhelmingly. He does not characterize the affirmative action policy of UW Madison as “moderate”. He also cited census stats on growth in the non-white population of the U.S. pulling stats that show Latina and Asian populations are growing fastest and that the populations that identify with two or more races has grown by 13%. Clegg infers that in the American context, affirmative action is “a recipe for disaster in a country like the United States if we are all to get along with one another”.
He said that increasingly his group is seeing Asian applicants displaced by Latina applicants – not a white vs. black scenario. “Now what is the justification for that? It is simply divisive and unfair and it should stop”.
In Professor Church’s 2nd ten minutes
“Why should we have affirmative action-nevermind the legalisms? Certainly one reason is an obvious reason: It’s an affirmative – the affirmative side of the benefits and policies of racial integration. For a long time we didn’t have integration in the United States. It took about 80 years for the U.S. to abolish race-based slavery. It took about 80 more for the U.S. to abolish official segregation based on race. It’s taken 60 more years to get where we are today for a total of 220 years. We’re not “there” yet. We’re not fully integrated in the U.S. Why do we want integration? We could go on for weeks on why we want integration in the U.S. Above all we want the races to understand each other. We want the races to mix together in the U.S. because together we may succeed, divided we will not.”
Church said we need to have political figures, lawyers, doctors from all the races and so we need to allow the entry of all races into all the law schools – a point he said was made during the 2003 Michigan case.
He added we need to jumpstart the process of change. Church said that we can not wait forever for the glacial pace of change as we’ve been doing it. “We don’t have 1,000 years”.
Church said that a “critical mass” of a group must be in a classroom to avoid tokenism. He said that if 1 student of a racial or ethnic group is in the class he/she winds up serving as a false representative for an entire group and that a critical mass of students of a group should be in the class to allow them to be free to be seen as individuals. He said that affirmative action was struck down by a court in California but that it has arisen again via other means, adding “it is here to stay in the United States” because of meritorious arguments, the will of society, and demographics.
I’d welcome links to the relevant legal cases in comments and any great pics/video that relate to the press conference,rally or debate. I’d love to develop a page for the topic of diversity and affirmative action at UW Madison and other colleges.