Speaker spurs diversity debate
DetailsCreated on Tuesday, 01 October 2013 04:08 Written by Carley Hull Hits: 343
Journalist and author Tony Mauro speaks at the event "Affirmative Action: Now What?" held in the Akron-Summit County Library Monday, Sept. 30, 2013. Mauro covered legal issues of affirmative action in relation to Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin. Photo by Chelsae Ketchum.
The “Affirmative Action: Now What?” event in Akron on Monday sparked conversation for the future of affirmative action and the place for diversity in higher education institutions.
The Rev. Ronald Fowler, special assistant to the office of the president for community engagement, joined a panel 7 p.m. at the Akron-Summit County Public Library to discuss the legal issues of equality arising from the Supreme Court’s decision on Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin to an audience of more than 50 people.
“[The event is] relevant to any university in the sense that they will be exploring the Supreme Court’s decisions and the implications for college admission,” Fowler said in an earlier interview. “So there are constitutional parameters that our admissions department has to respect and honor and, at the same time, balance that with the need for maintaining a diverse student body.”
Panelists and guest speaker Tony Mauro, former USA Today reporter and Supreme Court correspondent for more than 31 years, furthered discussion of the issues and the history of affirmative action.
Other panelists included: Vern Granger, The Ohio State University’s associate vice president for enrollment services and Lee Gill, the University of Akron’s associate vice president for inclusion and equity and chief diversity officer.
“[Because of the Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin case], affirmative action will live on to see another day,” Mauro said.
For now, colleges have no new guidelines for implementing affirmative action but must support their reasons for using affirmative action as the best way to achieve diversity, according to the Supreme Court ruling.
“What I found was the court gradually raising the bar,” Fowler said. “It’s like high jump. You keep raising until you can’t get people over it ... The highest GPA bar is moving up for institutions for the quality of students being recruited.”
Fowler continued to stress that students who will succeed are the ones he is trying to help recruit when recruiting diverse students for Kent State.
“[Kent State] is an institution that believes diversity increases excellence,” Fowler said, as the other panelists nodded their heads in agreement and the audience clapped in approval.
Diversity at Kent State
Recently, Kent State adopted a new strategic diversity plan for the entire university, and Fowler said he is pleased with the initiatives.
“[Kent State is] doing extremely well because we are putting the emphasis in the right place,” Fowler said. “Not only are we thinking about access as an issue, it’s allowing more first-generation and underrepresented students to be a part of the university, but student success is equally important and that we are able to attract and [support] some people who have the greatest potential for succeeding.”
“The roots of [the Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin case] actually goes back to 1946 when a man named Heman Sweatt, accompanied by officials of the NAACP, submitted his application to attend the law school at the University of Texas at Austin,” Mauro said. “The very same university involved in the Fisher case.”
Sweatt was a black man and was denied admission based only on his race, Mauro said. The court case Sweatt v. Painter ruled the university could not deny him based on his race.
The 2003 case Grutter v. Bollinger at the University of Michigan further set a precedent for the viability of diversity for affirmative action. In Fisher v. University of Texas case, Mauro said, the Grutter case helped set the standard that universities must now be prepared to explain how their policies of affirmative action are the best way to create diversity.
Currently, all colleges have two representatives in Kent State’s University Diversity Action Council, which, according to its website, ensures “that the diversity initiatives of colleges and divisions translate the university-wide strategic diversity action plan.”
The College of Business Administration works with UDAC representatives to take part in diversity programs such as Upward Bound and African-American, Latin-American and Native-American advocate programs to mentor minority students, according to information provided by Cathy Dubois, associate dean for administration in the College of Business Administration.
“We recognize that the labor supply is becoming increasingly diverse as demographics change in the country and around the world,” Dubois said in an email. “We also recognize that businesses will continue to increasingly become multinational.”
The college’s student organization, the Collegiate Business Association, also works to serve minority students with programming and fundraising.
Other colleges, such as the College of Education, Health and Human Services, still have their own diversity committee.
Jennifer Fisette, assistant professor of physical education and EHHS Diversity Committee member, said EHHS’s Diversity Committee tries to provide students awareness of diversity from the faculty level.
“More of our goal is to bring diversity into the curriculum and also to create a much more diverse culture and context within the college so that diverse students feel more comfortable and safe in the College of Education,” Fisette said.
Other colleges are also implementing diversity.
The Department of Psychology has the Multicultural and Diversity Committee, which is run by graduate students interested in reaching out to underrepresented psychology students who wish to continue on to the department’s graduate program.
The committee’s chair Alexandra Chong, graduate research assistant for the Department of Psychology, said she thinks diversity goes beyond ethnic and racial backgrounds.
“As far as recruitment goes, for either our committee or undergraduate mentorship program, we try to be aware of different ways you may be underrepresented,” Chong said. “And so this goes beyond cultural diversity and national diversity. It could be sexual orientation, religion. We also have a lot of students for our mentorship program, in particular, who are first-generation college students.”
The 2008 case involved Emily Fisher, a Caucasian female who sued the Texas university after she believed she was denied admission because of race.
The Supreme Court ruled in June that the circuit court did not properly apply strict scrutiny and was unable to give a deliberate decision.
The case is scheduled to return to the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals on Nov. 13, according to USAToday.com.
Kent State and Affirmative action
Although the Multicultural and Diversity Committee as well as other diversity committees present resources and opportunities to help minority students, the idea of affirmative action is not clearly set in place.
“I have very mixed feelings about affirmative action because it’s a very cyclical sort of thing - this idea of underrepresented groups,” Chong said. “And then on the other hand, is it really fair to present affirmative action or implement affirmative action regulations or what not at the expense of those who are Caucasian? There are two sides to the story.”
Similarly, Fisette said EHHS’s Diversity Committee does not handle affirmative action at all because it is handled by administrators in the college.
Fowler said he believes Kent State is enforcing affirmative action very responsibly.
“I think the growth that we are seeing at the university is further indication that we are doing two things right,” Fowler said. “And that it is acknowledging diversity as a core value of the institution and at the same time honoring and respecting the equal protection under the law clause, in our 14th Amendment.”