The College Democrats’ Activism Committee held a forum on affirmative action Tuesday night.
The meeting was part of a town hall series that the CDs hope to hold about once a month on different political issues, CD President Anjan Choudhury said.
The congregates tried to define affirmative action. Senior Christopher Jenkins said affirmative action is “using different methods to pursue a diverse environment.”
Director of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People’s Washington bureau Hilary Shelton moderated the event.
Shelton said the 90-year-old organization is the nation’s oldest civil-rights organization, and she said many colleges have NAACP chapters. About 30 people attended the forum, and several were members of GW’s branch of the NAACP.
“Affirmative action is a tool for integration, a tool that allows us to be as deliberate in our society about integration as we have in the past about segregation,” Shelton said.
He cited examples of anti-discrimination laws implemented as early as the Civil Rights Act of 1864.
“These laws were all put in place to make discrimination illegal,” Shelton said. “But very few of these laws were put in place to facilitate integration.”
Shelton said a conflict in views allowed for segregation throughout history.
“What kind of legitimation had to be utilized in this country, with our so-called Christian values, to be able to lock people out of jobs and deny opportunities?” he asked.
Much of the discussion focused on education. Akaii Lineberger said she grew up in a Maryland school district system that bussed students to different areas in order to encourage integration.
Lineberger said it was unfair that she was not afforded the same opportunities associated with learning near home or that, instead of her leaving, the proper resources weren’t brought into her neighborhood. Shelton responded to this and similar dilemmas nationwide, including issues such as distribution of tax money between school districts.
“I think it’s working to an extent,” he said. “I think there’s going to have to be a radical change in the distribution of the schools.”
Sara Bakker, the coordinator of the Diversity Program Clearinghouse, a division of the Multicultural Student Services Center, raised the issue of cultural bias in standardized testing. The goal of education, Shelton said, should be to reward merit above all else.
“If someone has the wherewithal to work their way out of poverty, they get some brownie points with me,” he said.
Choudhury said he was concerned about the views of affirmative action as patronage to minorities.
“I’ve been a supporter of affirmative action since I knew what it was,” he said. “(But) what kind of program would you suggest to combat this kind of new perception?”
Shelton refuted this sort of guilt associated with opportunities afforded by affirmative action programs.
“I think we need to eliminate some of the pressure about African Americans at universities,” he said. “I don’t feel bad about any opportunities that are offered to me. The only people who are trying to argue against affirmative action are the people who don’t want you to have that opportunity.”
Gerome Jenkins voiced concern about the polarization of culture and ethnicity even on diverse campuses such as GW.
“You have to be deliberate in making sure that cultural diversity is there,” Shelton said. “If you’re not taking full advantage of the integration of this campus, then you’re really blowing it.”