What will Ohio do?

Steve Bushong

Vice Provost for Diversity and Academic Initiatives Steve Michael said affirmative action helps create a diversity on campus that reflects the “mosaic” of the real world, which prepares students for diverse interactions beyond Kent State.

But in Michigan, a new constitutional amendment has affirmative action on pause.

In November, voters sided with The Michigan Civil Rights Initiative to ban affirmative action in public contracting, employment and education, which includes state universities. The initiative claims affirmative action denies people opportunities based upon race and gender.

It was supported by Jennifer Gratz, co-founder of the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative Committee, a white woman who filed suit against the University of Michigan because she claimed she was unfairly denied admission because of her race.

But Willie Boston, the new director of equal opportunity and affirmative action at Kent State, said accomplishing a diverse community through affirmative action does not require different standards, as some present-day connotations of affirmative action suggest.

“Affirmative action as I have been practicing it … doesn’t mean less-than or lower expectations, it just means extending your search, extending your parameters,” Boston said.

He said a university community must welcome diversity in order to reflect the changing demographic of today’s workforce.

Kary Moss, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan, said the November decision will harm the state.

“Michigan is already one of the most segregated states in the country,” Moss said. “Passage of this ballot will make it worse, and it will hurt Michigan’s economy.”

Reasons for the state’s shift away from affirmative action vary.

“(Voters) were looking at this proposal through a lens of economic insecurity,” Moss said. “Voters were very willing to believe what supporters were telling them.”

Michael, who is one of the United States’ leading figures in campus diversity, said affirmative action “was an instrument of the government to force open a door that was shut against particular groups of people in our nation.”

Without it, he said, opportunity will be decided for people by “accident of birth.”

“There are some (children) that play with computers when they’re young, and then there are all those whose roofs are leaking,” Michael said. “In so much as you have that, you truly don’t have a level playing field for those kids.”

Moss said affirmative action, enforced by the government since the 1970s, was one of many equalizing tools used to correct deep racial issues in the country. Other states are at risk of losing affirmative action, she said, and California and Washington have already banned it.

In November, the Los Angeles Times reported that Ward Connerly, a major force behind the Michigan ballot’s passing, has identified Oregon, Nevada, Arizona, Utah, Missouri and South Dakota as states where a ballot measure could be supported next.

“I think the end is at hand for affirmative action as we know it,” Connerly said.

Michael said he thinks times are changing, as well, but remains hopeful that diversity will persevere.

“I can also predict that American youth of today, whites and blacks and Hispanics, will rise up and demand educational opportunities that reflect the mosaic of America,” Michael said.

For now, the ACLU of Michigan is attempting to get a federal court ruling that would limit the amendment’s reach by interpreting the law in a “relatively limiting way,” Moss said.

Contact minority affairs reporter at Steve Bushong at [email protected].