COLUMBIA — In a discussion organized to educate students about affirmative action and the Missouri Civil Rights Initiative, which would end affirmative acttion in Missouri, only two supporters of the initiative spoke out.
The discussion Thursday in the Life Sciences building, organized by the Missing Minority Campaign, was designed to open dialogue between those for and opposed to the initiative. In a crowd of over 50 people, however, only two supporters of the initiative may have been the only ones to attend. Michael Alexander, an MU student, said he didn’t feel overwhelmed about stating his position in a room full of opposition. He said he wants to reach the same goal of equality, but has a different strategy.
Alexander said he doesn’t believe a race-based scholarship can fix some social disadvantages minorities face, such as inadequate schools. Additionally, whites shouldn’t be overlooked because they lack the color to be considered for a certain scholarship.
“It should have nothing to do with the color of your skin,” he said.
Antonio Williams of By Any Means Necessary said he believes minorities need affirmative action for the same reason Alexander opposes it.
Williams said that minorities need additional help because they are often given inferior education. He is a high school student with a 3.5 grade point average, but scored a 15 on the ACT.
Williams previously attended a predominantly black high school that didn’t have books for the students to take home, no Advanced Placement classes and had overcrowded classrooms, while white high schools in the city had the opposite.
Another BAMN member, Neal Lyons, who is a white male, said supporters of the initiative should know that in a time of economic turbulence, those who head the initiative are trying to misguide the views of white voters that the problem is minorities and not systematic, after the discussion.
During the event, Lyons talked about Ward Connerly, who is heading the initiative, and his efforts in California where a similar initiative passed.
Lyons said the initiative deceptively used language often associated with advancing civil rights, and the result of the ban on affirmative action was generally returning black and Latino college enrollment to numbers prior to the Civil Rights Movement.
“We are not going backwards, we are simply not going to do it,” Lyons said.
After Lyons spoke at the event, the discussion opened up to the audience and many spoke out on why affirmative action is needed.
People began to address Alexander’s positions with stories about being from the South and attending segregated schools, or being from single parent homes and not being able to afford a tuition that equals the majority of their parents’ incomes. Other audience members spoke out about the misconception that blacks and Latinos are not qualified for certain positions, but instead are still overlooked because of institutional racism.
“African Americans were enslaved for more than 200 years. That’s how long it should take to phase out affirmative action,” said Akayla Jones, an MU student.
Alexander said his position didn’t change on the subject but he was happy he attended and was able to hear about different perspectives.
Winston Tracy, a member of the Missing Minority Campaign, said he was pleased with the event but wishes more opposition would have come out. Tracy said the group invited Tim Asher, executive director of the initiative, as well as the Young Republicans group on campus, but Asher rescheduled to attend another event the group is having, and the Republican group canceled.
Although he wanted this discussion to be about information, Tracy said he hopes the new knowledge will convince more people to oppose the initiative.
“I think it’s obvious that a lot of people are passionate about this subject and the support is there,” Tracy said, adding: “We won’t be quiet about this subject.”