AFGE’s Thomas: Michigan Shows Separate, Unequal Systems Used in College Admissions

WASHINGTON—American Federation of Government Employees National Vice President for Women and Fair Practices Augusta Y. Thomas today issued the following statement regarding the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling upholding Michigan’s ban on affirmative action in higher education:

“Many would have us believe that because we have moved into the 21st century, elected our nation’s first African American president, and seen the progress of racial minorities improve since the formation of these United States, that our work is over, that we have ‘arrived.’ But the recent decision by the U.S. Supreme Court to uphold Michigan’s ban on the use of race as a factor for admission in its public colleges, tells us a different story. It affirms what the rest of us already know; that the marginalized and disenfranchised still have an uphill battle when it comes to finding their place in the many institutions within our society.

“The court’s 6-2 decision upholds a voter-approved change to the Michigan state Constitution preventing the state’s colleges and universities from using race as a factor during the admissions process. Why isn’t race on the same playing field as other factors such as alumni status, geography or athletics?

“Our nation’s highest court was presented with an important decision on whether or not advocates of racial diversity in Michigan’s colleges would have the same lobbying rights as those of other constituency groups. This decision shows us that two separate and unequal systems are now in play when determining the admissions criteria used at Michigan’s universities.

“In her powerful dissent, Justice Sonia Sotomayor, explained how the court’s decision fails to keep in check the limits of the majority.  She states ‘another fundamental strand of our equal protection jurisprudence focuses on process, securing to all citizens the right to participate meaningfully and equally in self-government.’

“Our sisters and brothers, advocating for racial diversity in Michigan’s higher education institutions, now must tackle the arduous and expensive task of overturning a constitutional amendment; while those with other admission interests can directly lobby university officials. This burden that we place on those seeking a racially diverse collegiate space is another example of the work that still must be done.

“We cannot be spectators to actions such as this, which create more barriers for people of color looking to access our public education institutions. We cannot pretend that our country’s history of prejudice and discrimination within the very institutions governing our society, has somehow disappeared or is no longer relevant. Rather, we must continue the work of uplifting the marginalized, empowering the disenfranchised and challenging those who seek to limit the possibilities and opportunities of our diverse communities.”

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