Conference tackles affirmative action

By Hanh Quach

Arizona Daily Wildcat

Roughly 50 UA students, faculty and staff members joined the legions of people from more than 125 institutions across the nation to participate in a national teleconference designed to inform the public about the debate surrounding affirmative action.

The six-person panel of the two-hour live teleconference, "Affirmative Action Under Siege: What's at Stake for our Campuses, Careers & Communities?" held an open discussion about the effects of movements in favor or against affirmative action. They met in Rooms 201 and 205 of the Harvill Building from 10 a.m. to noon yesterday to comment and ask questions of the panelists in Washington D.C. via fax or a toll-free number.

A teleconference panelist, Erroll Smith of the California Civil Rights Initiative, spoke against affirmative action. Smith said employers would recognize the need to hire a diverse work force in order to compete with other corporations.

But affirmative action supporters argued in the teleconference that its elimination would force women and minorities to work harder to achieve equal rights inherent to "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."

"The affirmative action movement intends to focus on having better representation of society in employment, promotion, and access to higher education," said Jesse Hargrove, assistant dean of African American Student Affairs.

"Affirmative action is about providing opportunities and a level playing field. It is not a quota system," said Cecilia Lou, assistant dean of the Asian Pacific American Cultural Resource Center.

But freshman Michael Goldfarb, president of The Right Way, a new republican student organization, said personal experiences turned him against affirmative action.

"It has to do with skin color instead of merit," he said. "Rewards based on academic work are bypassed because of skin color and gender."

A recent California Civil Rights Initiative said there should be no discrimination based on race and gender but there also should be no preference based on race and gender.

But critics of this initiative argue that it incorrectly uses racial and gender preference and affirmative action interchangeably, not using the term affirmative action, but using the initiative to combat the movement.

"Affirmative action is supposed to help people begin to appreciate differences. It encourages people to act positively to include everyone as a part of the nation," Lou said quoting John F. Kennedy.

"The program is racist," Goldfarb said, "it promotes the use of terms "hypen"-American. To me, everyone is American and it shouldn't be classified by cultural history. The only way we can move forward is to work as one."

In addition, the California Board of Regents recently voted against the use of race, creed, gender and ethnicity in its policies for admissions, hiring and contracting. The University of California at Berkeley will demonstrate against this decision today in a walkout.

"The teleconference served as a vehicle for information," said Sylvia Mioduski, director of the University Learning Center, who hopes that those who participated in the teleconference had the opportunity to become informed on the different sides of affirmative action.

"People need to understand rather than assume they know," Lou said, adding that she hoped the teleconference raised questions on campus about affirmative action and diversity issues.

"It's a hot topic. Not only is it a political issue, but a real life issue for lots of people, so if people are more informed, we can have more ground to move forward," Lou said.

Teresa Graham Brett, associate director of Minority Student Services, said attendants "had the opportunity to listen to a broad spectrum of ideas. This is a starting point but we must go beyond that by continuing more dialogue (about affirmative action) on campus."

The teleconference was brought to this campus by the University of Arizona Library, the student affairs staff development committee, the Commission on the Status of Women, the Arizona Association for Chicanos in Higher Education, the UA Affirmative Action Office, the Dean of Students Office, and the Asian Pacific American Cultural Resource Center.

There will be a campus-wide walkout for students who favor affirmative action today on the UA Mall from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.

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