“No victory is permanent.”These are the words of John Payton, lead counsel on Michigan’s legal defense team in its affirmative action suits. At a lecture earlier this fall, Mr. Payton shared his experience in the Michigan lawsuits, emphasizing the spirit of optimism engendered by the victory. But, he cautioned, this victory should not be squandered. To ensure that tomorrow we continue to enjoy the gains made today, we must remain vigilant.

Racial segregation in schools was ruled unconstitutional nearly fifty years ago. The Brown decision galvanized the struggle for equality of educational opportunity, but it has been eroded over time by opponents of affirmative action. With only modest gains made towards integration some twenty years after the decision, the incorporation of race in education has once again been legally challenged. In the Baake case, the Supreme Court upheld the use of race, with Justice Powell arguing that it was justified by the educational benefits derived from diversity. There was no evidence, however, to back up this claim at the time, and according to Mr. Payton, some believed that Powell was simply “making it up.”

Affirmative action opponents then began strategizing to eliminate all use of race in admissions systems, starting with the Hopwood case in Texas and attempting to expand their Hopwood achievement with the case against Michigan. To build its defense, Michigan assembled top scholars and researchers to provide solid evidence on the educational benefits. The plaintiffs in the case did not challenge the experts’ findings. Moreover, corporations, universities and a number of organizations supported Michigan’s defense by attesting to the rewards of diversity in education. Equally telling is the fact that not a single corporation filed an amicus brief in support of the plaintiffs. As Payton described in his talk, the ‘theoretical benefits’ of diversity on which Baake rests are now proven benefits acknowledged across broad sectors of society.

This achievement of the Michigan case is not to be underestimated. Fortified with scientific evidence and legally sanctioned by the Supreme Court, those who are committed to diversity must heed John Payton’s call to vigilance. The need for targeted intervention to increase Latino participation in higher education is particularly urgent.

According to a report by the US Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics, just 22 percent of U.S. Hispanics aged 18-24 years enrolled in college in 2000, compared to 39 percent of Whites and 31 percent of Blacks. The gap in degree completion for Hispanics aged 25 to 29 is even more striking. In 2000, 10 percent of Hispanics had completed college, while 34 percent of their White counterparts held college degrees. Moreover, the rates of college completion increased for both Whites and Blacks between 1990 and 2000, but Hispanics did not experience increases during this period. As the nation’s fastest growing minority population, Latin@s must participate fully in contributing to and reaping the benefits of diversity in higher education.


To be sure, the obstacles to Hispanic educational achievement reach far beyond the purview of our universities. Hypersegregation, concentration of poverty, high drop out rates, and language barriers all contribute to low college participation rates. For this reason, we must take care to ensure that the OSU gates remain open to Latin@s, that we do all we can to promote Latino success, and that we enjoy the full benefits of the diversity that Latin@s bring to our campus. Over the past ten years, Hispanics at OSU have experienced increases in enrollment, retention and graduation rates. OSU’s efforts to provide scholarships, financial aid, and retention services to support Hispanic students have not gone unrewarded.

Despite the victory that we should be celebrating, there is a mood of apprehension and caution tempering our optimism. The Court decision upheld the principle of affirmative action while offering stricter guidance on its application. We must scrutinize our programs to put them on safe legal ground. But let us not squander the opportunities won through the Michigan struggle. It is time for open dialogue about how OSU will respond to the challenges and opportunities of the moment. There is much good work to be done. Let us take up the task together.



ISSUE:
Autumn 2003

Esquina Del Editor
Welcome Back!

Features
Affirmative Action: OSU Administrators Discuss the Implications of the Recent Michigan Supreme Court Ruling

Summer Scholars Participate in Cutting Edge Research

Latin@ Studies in the Midwest

First Year Experience

First Year Students Share Their Expectations

Health Issues in the Latino Community

In Every Issue
Su Opinión

A Glimpse into the Life of the Latino Community at OSU!

Food Review! Starliner Diner

Letters to the Editor

Graduates
Spring & Summer 2003

Profiles
Prof. Roberto Rojas

Graduate Student Research

Ernesto Escoto

Ezra Escudero

 

 


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