Things That Matter

This Is What You Need To Know About Affirmative Action

Since the birth of affirmative action, a set of procedures intended to correct the effects of historical discriminations, in the 1960s, there have been many cases aimed at weakening the policy. Most recently: an ongoing lawsuit arguing that Harvard’s admissions office discriminates against Asian-Americans.

The case, which follows years of conservatives casting Asians as victims of the policy with the goal of having it outlawed, is currently being weighed by a federal judge in Massachusetts.

Students for Fair Admissions, a group founded by conservative Edward Blum, is suing Harvard for allegedly discriminating against Asian-American applicants, particularly through its use of “personal ratings,” which takes into account traits like kindness, leadership and courage.

A decision in the case by federal Judge Allison Burroughs is expected in the next few months.

Regardless of the decision, however, those who have historically been opposed to the policy hope the case will make it to the conservative-majority Supreme Court, where affirmative action could be killed.

With the policy in the spotlight, again, we wanted to demystify what affirmative action is and what you need to know about its history and potential fate.

The Birth of Affirmative Action:

Even after the US Supreme Court ruled in Brown v. Board of Education that the “separate but equal” doctrine violated the Constitution, communities of color continued to face discrimination in education and the workplace. To undo this historic inequity, President Kennedy created the Council on Equal Opportunity in an Executive Order in 1961. This required government employers to “not discriminate against any employee or applicant for employment because of race, creed, color, or national origin.”

Racial Quotas:

Since its inception, affirmative action has received pushback from conservatives who claim the policy is a form of reverse discrimination against whites. Opponents’ first big win came in 1978, when the Supreme Court ruled in Regents of the University of California v. Bakke that colleges could not use racial quotas, as doing so violates the Equal Protection Clause. This means employers can’t hire “less qualified” applicants to fill an identity quota.

Diversity:

In 2016, the Supreme Court ruled that, while admissions officials can’t consider race as a way to undo the effects of historical discrimination, schools could consider race as one factor among many to ensure a diverse student body in the case Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin.

Affirmative Action Bans:

Despite affirmative action, people of color remain a disproportionate minority in higher education. In fact, while the percentage of Black and Latinx college student increased between 2000 and 2014, they still just account for 14.5 percent and 16.5 percent of college students, respectively. College diversity shrinks even more in states that ban race-based affirmative action. Currently, states like California, Washington, Michigan, Nebraska, Arizona, Florida, Oklahoma and New Hampshire have bans. In some, like California, Florida and Texas, there are percentage plans that guarantee the top 10 percent of high school graduates a spot in any state university.

A Future Without Affirmative Action:

With colleges no longer allowed to consider race in applications as a way to undo the effects of historical discrimination, many, like Harvard, now argue that diversity is good for everyone. However, if Students for Fair Admissions’ case makes it to the Conservative-majority Supreme Court, they may soon no longer be able to make even that justification, regardless of its accuracy. This could lead to elite schools like it, where Blacks and Latinxs already account for just 1 in 4 students, to have even fewer scholars of color, leading to less career and financial opportunities for Black and brown folk.

Read: The SATs Have A History Of Racism, But The ‘Adversity Rating’ Should Help

An Image Of Ballerinas In Blackface Has Surfaced And It’s Extremely Disturbing

Entertainment

An Image Of Ballerinas In Blackface Has Surfaced And It’s Extremely Disturbing

mistyonpointe / Istagram

There’s no denying that the world of ballet has a race problem. The classic style of performance dance has cultivated a reputation that is lily-white and throughout its history has cascaded its performances in the white shades, white tutus and white ribbons. The glorification of ballet’s lack of diversity is so deeply threaded into the genre that the list of accomplished and world-renowned African-American ballerinas has up until the past decade been considered a rarity. In fact, it wasn’t until 2015 that African American ballet dancer Misty Copeland that the American Ballet theater, known as the national ballet company of the United States, named an African American woman as a principal dancer. 

Copeland knows the problem of race in the ballet world runs deep and has talked extensively about discrimination in her career world of choice, sharing how difficult it was for her to rise and be considered the serious ballet dancer she is today. In fact, in a recent post to her Instagram page, the ballerina shared just how much of a problem it is in the ballet world.

In a recent post to her Instagram page, Copeland slammed Russia’s Bolshoi Theater for contributing to racial discrimination in ballet after performers had used blackface for a production.

In a post to her Instagram page earlier this week, Copeland share an image of two white female ballerinas in black body paint rehearsing for a show. The image, which was reposted from a Russian ballet dancer in Russia’s Bolshoi Ballet theater, depicts to dancers who performed in the theater’s production of La Bayadère, a famous classical ballet which is set in India. In the image two dancers can be seen posing happily while wearing blackface. “This is the reality of the ballet world,” she wrote in the post which sparked a wild debate on racism in  ballet.

Copeland’s post received over 65K likes and almost 6K comments. As well as some intense and insane backlash from Bolshoi Theatre director Vladimir Urin.  In response, to Copeland Erin told Russia’s RIA Novosti news agency that she was reading too much into the piece. “The ballet La Bayadère has been performed thousands of times in this production in Russia and abroad, and the Bolshoi Theatre will not get involved in such a discussion,”  Urin replied before going on to say that “

“Finding some sort of deep insults in this is simply ridiculous,” Urin added. “No one has ever complained to us or saw … an act of disrespect.”  However, as the Cut points out, in 2007, when Bolshoi first brought its production of Bayadère to New York in 2007, the New York Times as “too ludicrous to be even grotesque,” saying “white children dressed as blacks (black-wrinkled tights, black-gloved sleeves and black curly wigs, but with faces lightly daubed in various pale coffee hues.”

In response to headed discussions about the blackface incident online, Copeland replied that she knew the topic was “sensitive.”

“I get that this is a VERY sensitive subject in the ballet world,” she wrote to fans on Twitter. “But until we can call people out and make people uncomfortable, change can’t happen.”

Throughout her career, Copeland has been extremely vocal about the ballet world’s lack of diversity and failure to break from racist stereotypes in performances.

In 2018, Copeland spoke to her experiences as a Black ballerina and the decades of racism in her ballet world. “A lot of dancers in my generation have been told the same things she has been told,” Copeland told TIME. “The one difference is that the world outside ballet has changed. We won’t be told to leave the company because our safety is at risk, but I had a similar experience being told to pancake my skin a lighter color to fit in with the rest of the company. I’ve talked to so many dancers who have had it even worse than [what] I’ve experienced. Raven and I both have a light complexion, but darker dancers have experienced much worse.”

In the large and expansive country of Russia, Afro-Russians– or people of African descent– make a very small portion of the population. According to the Metis Foundation there are about 50,000 people who identify as Afro-Russian in the country. Still, a lack of access to ballet dancers in Russian ballet isn’t the true problem The true rot at Russian ballet core is that it used to hire dancers of color and would instead opt out to use blackface. Here’s hoping we see some of the Black Girl Magic that has been taking over the world of beauty pageants this year.  Clearly Russia and its ballet company need all that they can get.

Harvard’s Only Latina Professor Was Denied Tenure, Sparking Student Protests and a Larger Conversation About Institutional Racism

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Harvard’s Only Latina Professor Was Denied Tenure, Sparking Student Protests and a Larger Conversation About Institutional Racism

@DivestHarvard / Twiter

Harvard has long been regarded as one of the most prestigious academic institutions in the US, if not the world. The Ivy League University has 36,012 students and 2,400 faculty members from over 150 countries. But although Harvard often boasts of the efforts they make to diversify their students, their faculty, and their curriculum, their track record has been less than stellar. That has been no clearer than in the recent turmoil surrounding the denial of their only Latina Professor, Lorgia García Peña. 

Once students learned of the University President’s decision to deny Garcia tenure, they were dismayed. Garcia’s tenure had been watched closely by the student body throughout the year, some going so far as to conduct a letter-writing campaign on her behalf earlier in the year. Once the initial disappointment at the decision faded, some students felt the need to take action. 

On Monday, roughly 50 students took to Harvard’s University Hall to protest Professor García’s tenure denial.

Although there is a Non-Discrimination and Affirmative Action clause in Harvard’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences Appointment Handbook, students believe that the decision to deny García tenure “exemplifies bias in the review process against professors of Ethnic Studies, whose scholarship and mentorship often put them in tension with Harvard’s administration”. 

In light of the upsetting denial of Garcia as a tenured professor, students drafted a petition with a list of demands aimed at the administration. The petition demands that the administration provides students with an explanation as to why Garcia’s tenure was denied. Students also demand a formal investigation into the alleged reasoning behind the tenure denial, with a specific focus on possible unconscious or structrual bias. Last but not least, the students demand the formal establishment of an Ethnic Studies Division–a request that the student body has been pursuing since 1972. 

For college professors, securing tenure is widely thought of as the most important accomplishment in their academic career.

According to The American Association of University Professors, becoming a tenured professor means that you “can be terminated only for cause or under extraordinary circumstances”. In other words, it is a professor’s permanent job contract, which grants them greater academic freedom and protects them from being arbitrary fired. Usually, a professor is granted tenure after a probationary period of six years after which they’ve established themselves as valuable to the institution they’re working for. Usually during this time, they’re expected to publish academic research and findings to prove their value.

According to Professor Robert Anderson of Pepperdine University, tenure means that professors “are the most secure” in the unpredictable game of university politics. “[Tenured professors] are more like debt holders. If anyone bears the risk, it’s the staff who get tossed in the trash to save faculty”.

The uproar over Garcia’s tenure denial represents the larger struggle that many Latinx academics face when trying to establish themselves in higher education. 

As Latina Harvard student Mercedes Gomez tweeted on Monday, “Harvard flaunts its diversity and its admission numbers, but refuses to do the work to cultivate an environment for its students of color to feel safe and represented”. This statement rings true

As for the broader Latino community, they have not stayed silent on social media when commenting on Harvard’s questionable decision.

The fact itself that Professor Garcia is the only Latina on the faculty on the tenure track is room enough for skepticism. 

Harvard student Mercedes Gomez is especially invested in justice for Professor Garcia. 

https://twitter.com/gomezsb_/status/1201607299741212672?s=20

Let’s hope that the students’ activism spurs Harvard to re-think their decision.

This Latina academic has some chilling stories to tell about the way POC academics are structurally oppressed by academic institutions:

https://twitter.com/yarimarbonilla/status/1201689622583160832?s=20

The evidence seems to be piling up that these professors are denied tenure because their ideas don’t align with the institution’s bottom line. 

This Latina made a valid observation about how boringly predictable these tenure outcomes for WOC have become.

https://twitter.com/allisonefagan/status/1201864198403305472?s=20

The problem with institutional racism is that it’s so insidious–it’s often hard to see when it’s in front of you. And it’s even harder to call out.

This Latina is angry simply at the denial because of Garcia’s stellar resume. 

https://twitter.com/marisollebron/status/1201597626233315329?s=20

It’s frustrating to see that Ivy League institutions recruit off their claims of radical inclusivity, but their administrations don’t follow through when it comes to changing the structures of their institutions. 

The reason for Garcia’s tenure denial should be made public and then investigated. Because if this isn’t evidence of institutional racism, we don’t know what is.