[mcripull]On a warm Saturday morning in September, a group of students assemble outside the Union. Members of Young Americans for Freedom (YAF) from both MSU and U of M meet to travel to downtown Lansing to counter-protest a rally where national notables including Gov. Jennifer Granholm and Reverend Jessie Jackson are expected to speak on an infamous hot-button issue.
Near the capitol building, the group of nine stands aside as thousands of people march past chanting, “Vote No on 2!” MSU students are mixed in with people gathered from all around the state to show their opposition to this proposal. Defiantly, each member of YAF proudly holds their own sign, slogans ranging from “Stop Racial Preferences” to “Eliminate Racism! Vote yes on MCRI!” These students aren’t merely protesting a rally, but fighting for possibly the most controversial issue for Michigan on the November ballot.
Proposal 2, formerly known as the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative (MCRI), would make it unlawful for public employment, schools and contracting to discriminate or give preferential treatment to any individual or group based on race, sex, color, ethnicity or national origin. In short, voting yes would make affirmative action illegal. According to Webster\’s dictionary, affirmative action is, “an active effort (as through legislation) to improve the employment or educational opportunities of members of minority groups or women.”
This issue has a sharp divide, with those in opposition to the proposal (those in support of affirmative action) saying it would greatly reduce the diversity on campus and in the workplace, while those in favor say that affirmative action does not address the real issues. “[Those opposed to Proposal 2] want to help inner city minorities, and that is a noble cause,” said Kyle Bristow, YAF chairman and an international relations sophomore. “But accepting failure in society is wrong.\”
But how society has failed is part of the debate. While those in favor of the MCRI say that affirmative action gives women and minorities an unfair advantage, dissenters of the proposal say that it is essential in order to compensate for insitutionalized racism and sexism.
[yaf1]YAF members believe the main issue affirmative action tries to address is the problems in underprivileged K-12 schools, where segregation is a major problem. However, they feel that merely giving these people an advantage does not address where the true problems lie, with the education system itself.
\”It’s like putting a bandage on a festering wound,” Bristow said. “It fixes a symptom of the problem, not the problem itself.”
YAF is a conservative organization on campus that is often involved in activism, with members regularly planning and attending rallies to support their causes on campus. This is one of several issues they are presently showing their support for across campus and in the community.
Many proponents of the MCRI consider affirmative action to be “state-sponsored racism,” or assuming who needs assistance and who does not based solely on race and gender. \”I think Affirmative Action was created with good intentions, but we\’ve become so politically correct and want to make people feel special and loved, so we\’ve gone too far to an extreme,\” said telecommunications sophomore Christina Grenhart.
Supporters of the MCRI also argue that affirmative action leaves behind white students who were raised in economically disadvantaged school systems. \”The way it is now, (affirmative action) excludes some people that are in poorer schools,\” pre-vet freshman Jennifer Hamiltonsaid said. \”It needs improvement.\”
[jen]Those who are in favor of affirmative action, however, think the issue goes beyond the problems within our educational system and into the mindset of people as a whole. They argue that our society is often unfair to minorities and women, and that affirmative action is a tool to get on equal ground with the white/male majority. And by moving minorities into more qualified positions, they break the cycle forcing them to remain in the segregated communities, which then helps correct the white majority mindset.
“Those in favor of MCRI tend to say that affirmative action is reverse discrimination, but they don\’t seem to realize that white privilege is a reality,” Megan Gallagher, a political science senior and member of Defend Affirmative Action in Michigan (DAAM), said. Affirmative action can be a way to compensate for white privilege.
\”I believe that everyone deserves an equal chance and affirmative action is definitely a step in the right direction,\” premed freshman Lisa Cowan said.
[yaf2]Groups like DAAM also argue that even with the diversification affirmative action gives, ethnicity is still relatively unbalanced. They believe that passing Proposal 2 would only make this imperfect situation worse, and cause a sharp decline in minority admissions.
MSU professor Jeanne Gazel, director of the Multi-Racial Unity Living Experience (MRULE) said the proposed initiative would be unfair to students in Michigan. “Calling [Proposal 2] a civil rights agenda is a travesty,” Gazel said. “It is highly manipulative and destructive to the efforts we have made in Michigan to make higher education accessible to those who have been excluded. MSU\’s student body is still 85 percent white and we need to continually ensure that we be accessible to all members of our society.”
Gazel said that affirmative action is not only beneficial to MRULE, it is critical to the success of the organization. “MRULE cannot survive if it is not diverse,” she said.
[sidebarmcri]In 1996, California passed a similar proposal, known as Proposal 209 – the work of Ward Connelly, who is also the man behind the MCRI. Once passed, Proposal 209 made affirmative action illegal. It faced a great deal of criticism, even being temporarily overturned at one point.
Many believe Proposal 209 can be used as barometer for what will happen in Michigan if Proposal 2 were to pass. But the debate is still ongoing, now a decade later, about whether Proposal 209 has benefited or harmed California\’s diversity, equality and quality of education.
In 1995, before proposal 209 passed in California, UC Berkeley and UCLA combined admitted 469 African American men and women out of a class of 7,100. In 2004, that number had dropped to 218 out of a class of 7,350. At least in California’s case, banning affirmative action did have an effect in these universities.
Many also fear that programs aiming to integrate minorities could be weakened, if not cut altogether. According to a study released by Susan W. Kaufmann, associate director of the Center for the Education of Women at U of M, several programs in California were contested or removed because they were classified as giving preferential treatment to minorities. Examples include college outreach programs, recruitment and apprenticeships specifically designed for minorities or women, and minority scholarships. The release states, “the California experience suggests that the people of Michigan can expect the impact of the initiative to be quite broad, affecting not only affirmative action but also outreach efforts designed to ensure access to opportunity.”
[mcri1]The broad effects Proposal 2 may have also worry Gallagher. “People have tried to say that gender-based programs [in California] are discriminatory,” she said. “It puts the burden on these organizations to defend themselves in the courts.”
However, those who feel that California\’s change was for the better argue that it makes sure that those who truly are the most qualified get the best training, and the most knowledgeable get the best careers. “It\’s good to know that, when you go to the doctor, the doctor got there because he or she was qualified to get there,” Bristow said. “If there is no affirmative action, I know they\’ve hired the most qualified people.”
Journalism Freshman Pamela Wall said that even though affirmative action might not be perfect, having it is better than nothing. \”It would be bad for Proposal 2 to pass,\” she said.
[gov]Those in favor of the MCRI cite that minority dropout rates in California\’s college have decreased, showing that those accepted are qualified to be there and not because of race. They believe people accepted to college purely on merit is most important, and Michigan needs to have what California now has.
In Michigan as a whole, public opinion is conflicting and uncertain. Many polls suggest that the election will be a dead heat. There are few people who feel confident about whether the proposal will pass or fail. Every ballot cast will count, and the result will have a major effect on Michigan no matter what the final vote. On both sides, groups are planning many more events between now and the election in hopes of swinging the vote. “There will be more actions as the elections approach, up to the week before the vote itself,” Gallagher said.
Many groups have not revealed all of their plans for the month before the election, but rallies for both sides can often be found through online networking Web site Facebook, local media, and by contacting the organizations themselves. These rallies have one ultimate goal: get people to vote.
“It all depends on how well we get people to the polls,” Gallagher said. “MSU will be a highly contested area as far as votes go.”
With November fast approaching, ballot issues are increasingly being published on the front page or plastered on corkboards across campus. The results of these issues will affect Michigan in various ways, but some may not directly pertain to MSU. Proposal 2, however, has the potential to drastically change university life no matter what the outcome. While it may be easier to skip the lines and turn on the nightly news to learn the results, it will be crucial for MSU students to take a stand. As Americans, it is our right to vote, and as students, it is our obligation to decide the future of our university.

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