AS THIS paper goes to print, I am the only black columnist on staff at the Cavalier Daily Opinion Department.
Some may say this means I have more responsibility than my fellow columnists to discuss the racial issues that impact University life. I never devote my columns to race, however, unless there is a good reason to do so. This week, I choose to write about the issue, not only because it is newsworthy, but because other black student organizations have remained appallingly silent.
Earlier this month, the Office of Admissions and the Provost's Office presented a joint proposal outlining their plan to institute a special summer program at the University. Aimed at recruiting academically gifted minority students to Grounds, the session would cater to about 700 students. Theoretically, these students would comprise a ready pool of gifted applicants to the University, thus strengthening minority recruitment.
But since the proposal comes as a response to public speculation about the legality of considering race in admissions decisions, many are worried that the program will lead to the elimination of affirmative action altogether. The University community does have reason for concern. Should the Board deem the summer program a "more legal" type of recruitment, the Office of Admissions may be forced to adopt a race-blind policy. Such a shift severely would hamper the interests of diversity on Grounds.
Clearly, students must assert their commitment to maintaining and developing a diverse community. There are a variety of ways to do this. Last February, the Advocates for Diversity in Education (ADE) submitted a petition to the Board, and held a rally to educate the community about affirmative action. This year, other groups should follow suit, working collaboratively to make all students aware of how the community benefits from these programs. No individual should walk to class without seeing a flyer urging his or her participation in this effort. The Lawn should be thronged with dedicated rally-goers, and The Cavalier Daily should be running guest columns written by leaders of politically active student groups.
Unfortunately, however, the one organization with the greatest stake in this issue has failed to address it. In a personal interview, Black Student Alliance Co-President Fabienne Nicaisse said her group has not come up with a definite plan of action. "We haven't had anything set in stone yet," she said, because "we're working with other student organizations to present a united front on this issue."
Nicaisse refused to list the names of these groups, passing the administrative buck to the BSA's Director of Issues, second-year College student Brandi Colander. Although Colander never returned my calls, I was able to do a little detective work on my own. If the BSA is spearheading a University-wide campaign to rally students behind affirmative action, no one knows about it.
I contacted the leaders of several student groups to ask what efforts the BSA has made to include them in this so-called "united front." The responses were quite interesting. Asian Student Union President Stephanie Hsu said no one from the BSA has approached her with any ideas. "It's odd," she remarked, "because [the BSA and ASU] usually work together as a coalition on issues like this."
National Organization for Women President Areshini Pather echoed Hsu's sentiments in a separate interview. "Nobody from the BSA has contacted me, either in a personal capacity or in my capacity as president of NOW." Pather's comments are significant, considering both NOW's well-established commitment to diversity on Grounds, and the fact that white women also benefit significantly from affirmative action policies.
But perhaps by "other student groups," Nicaisse was referring to organizations specific to the black community at the University. If so, the BSA forgot to include the most powerful group of the bunch. In an interview, Black Fraternal Council Co-Chairman Michael McPheeters said the BSA has not contacted him with any plan of action. In fact, he seemed to feel that recent concern about the summer program is unwarranted. "I think things are getting ahead of themselves," he remarked. "No one said [the program] is going to replace affirmative action. If it were to do so, then I'd be concerned."
But M. Rick Turner, dean of the Office of African-American Affairs, sees things differently. In an interview, Turner noted, "all the beneficiaries [of affirmative action] must act." Although he met with the elusive Colander earlier this year, the results were ambiguous. "She never said what kind of action they were going to take," Turner remarked. He characterized the group's current position as a "loose-end stance," adding, "I'm somewhat disappointed in the BSA as a whole." Turner remains hopeful, however, that the organization will respond in a more definitive way.
So do I. The time is right for the BSA to reassert itself as a formidable presence on Grounds. For the organization to drop the ball in this manner is completely irresponsible. In an interview, BSA Publicity Chair Natanya Mitchell mentioned that the organization may sponsor a round-table discussion featuring admissions officers, Dean Turner and concerned students. She admitted, however, that no one from the BSA has pursued this vague plan. I suggest getting to work on it immediately. Only by mobilizing the student body can the BSA hope to maintain the diversity it cherishes at the University.
(Kiki Petrosino's column appears Wednesdays in The Cavalier Daily.)