Affirmative Action Focus of Discussion at Student-Run Event

February 15, 2019

The Asian American Student Association and Black Student Alliance partnered in hosting a discussion about affirmative action on Jan. 30.  The event was facilitated by Marcia Chatelain, associate professor of history and African American studies, and centered around the considerations and problems that surround affirmative action.

While the overarching theme of the event was affirmative action in higher education, Chatelain did not want this to be the only focus. “Conversations about affirmative action take on, in my perspective, a larger portion of conversations about higher education when it is a very, very small consideration on how universities operate,” Chatelain said. This opened the dialogue up to racial issues beyond affirmative action, prodding students to consider their own experiences as people of color on the Hilltop, as well as the role of diversity in higher education.

Chatelain tackled some misconceptions about affirmative action and clarified that the program was initially created to deal with federal contracts and employment. With its application to education, the idea that students of color may be admitted simply to meet some sort of “diversity quota,” and not based upon their merit, is incorrect as quotas were outlawed in 1978.

Chatelain also explained higher education as being “sold” as a set of available experiences, one of which is diversity. Students took issue with this portrayal, explaining that their cultural events are not meant to be a “vacation experience” but genuine, significant reminders of what matters to them as people of color.

The discussion included student proposals on how Georgetown can improve the perception and achievement of diversity on campus. Students highlighted the wide variety of classes which fill the diversity-domestic and diversity-global requirements as problematic. Students felt these classes often barely touched upon issues of diversity and thus were operating under false pretenses. To rectify this, ideas of narrowing this requirement arose, with courses that concentrate more closely on histories and experiences of people of color.

Additionally, students raised the importance of emphasizing and including diversity within all class syllabi, instead of narrowing it down to merely two requirements during a student’s four years. They hoped that Georgetown would reconsider its approach to diversity, making it more than an experience they can sell, and more of a true priority on campus.

Chatelain concluded the discussion by reminding students that being informed is so important. “This idea of holding up a mirror to institutions and holding them accountable is one of the greatest powers we have.”

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