Demonstrators sing, chant, cheer in support of admissions philosophy

Young and old backers of affirmative action gather outside court

April 02, 2003|By Mike Adams | Mike Adams,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON - Yvonne Gor says she is "talented and capable," but without affirmative action she probably would have been overlooked when she applied to New York University.

Yesterday, Gor, an NYU sophomore, joined several thousand demonstrators who assembled outside the U.S. Supreme Court in a show of support for affirmative action in college admissions. Gor, who is majoring in finance and international business, says that without affirmative action, many of the nation's most select schools will become enclaves for rich white students.

"I see it in my own school; people of color are not represented in sufficient numbers, and if the Supreme Court derails affirmative action, the situation will only get worse," said Gor, a young black woman from a small town near Poughkeepsie, N.Y.

A light rain fell, but bad weather did not deter the demonstrators, who were bent on sending a message to the high court. Inside, the most important affirmative action cases to reach the high court in a quarter-century were unfolding. The Supreme Court will decide, in the cases brought by three white plaintiffs, whether the University of Michigan's undergraduate college and law school can use race as a factor in admissions. The court's decision could affect affirmative action policies in other areas, such as hiring.

Outside, a long list of speakers including the Rev. Jesse Jackson, Democratic Sen. Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts and Kweisi Mfume, the president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, addressed the demonstrators.

There were chants, songs and loud cheers as students raised clenched fists while walking into the court to witness history.

Rep. John Conyers Jr., a Michigan Democrat and one of the founders of the Congressional Black Caucus, said the high court is standing on "the threshold of a Plessy vs. Ferguson moment," a reference to the Supreme Court decision that upheld Southern Jim Crow laws.

"The Supreme Court can influence the movement of this nation toward the continuing commitment of full participation for all its citizens," Conyers said, speaking from his office before the demonstration. "Or the court can abandon the progress of 30 years in the name of a distorted equal protection claim - one that is out of touch with the social reality of our nation."

Delano Cox, 67, traveled to the demonstration from Waterloo, Iowa. Cox and 14 college students made the trip on a bus. Cox, who is black, holds three degrees, including a doctorate in genetics from the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana.

"When I went to the university, you could have put all the black students in a tea cup," he said. "Affirmative action has changed things; it's made the schools better by increasing the awareness of diversity."

He said he came to Washington because he did not want to see the high court turn back the clock and re-segregate the nation's schools of higher learning.

President Bush rankled many in the black community by using the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday to announce his opposition to the University of Michigan's affirmative action policy. Bush says he favors race-neutral policies to foster diversity.

"I'm so ashamed of this government, I'm so ashamed of this administration to have the solicitor general argue that the University of Michigan's affirmative action policy is somehow a quota," said Rep. Maxine Waters, a California Democrat. "Race is only one of many factors considered in admissions, and to say otherwise is a distortion."

When the opening arguments ended, the plaintiff in the law school case, and the two plaintiffs in the undergraduate case, stood on the front steps of the Supreme Court building with their lawyer. They explained why they took legal action against Michigan after they were rejected in 1997.

Barbara Grutter, the plaintiff in the law school case, was 43 years old when the school turned her down. She had worked as a health care consultant and had solid test scores and grades. Grutter, now 49, says that if Michigan was concerned about diversity, the law school should have considered her life experiences. Asked why she considered herself a victim of affirmative action when white women reportedly are its main beneficiaries, she replied:

"I've had the pleasure of working with many professional women over the past 30 years. These women were decision makers and, in many cases, parents, and there's no case I can recall when any of them ever asked for preferential treatment, not for themselves, not for their partners and not for their children. They don't want their sons to have preference over their daughters or their daughters to have preference over their sons. They ask for equal treatment, equal opportunity to compete, and equal opportunity to produce."

Jennifer Gratz, one of two plaintiffs in the case against Michigan's undergraduate college, said: "This case is not about students being accepted or not being accepted, it's about students being treated fairly."

Gratz pointed out that minority students can get as many as 20 points on the 150-point scale that the school uses to judge applicants.

Mary Sue Coleman, the president of the University of Michigan said that every applicant's file is evaluated fairly, and that the point system helps to standardize the process. "Nobody gets in or out on points alone," she added.

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