Panel denounces anti-affirmative action initiative

TAKING ACTION: (From the left) Mel Hannah, Michael Wong, Wilbert Nelson and Essen Otu came together Tuesday night in the Memorial Union to talk about their view on Arizona Civil Rights Initiative, Prop 107. (Photo by Scott Stuk)

A panel of community leaders assembled Tuesday night to criticize a ballot proposition that would end affirmative action programs in Arizona.

The forum, which took place at the Memorial Union on the Tempe campus, was hosted by the ASU National Pan-Hellenic Council, an organization of historically African-American fraternities and sororities.

The measure to be featured on the November ballot states that Arizona “shall not grant preferential treatment to or discriminate against any individual or group on the basis of race, sex, color ethnicity or national origin in the operation of public employment, public education or public contracting.”

Panelist Michael Wong, the vice president of policy for the Undergraduate Student Government, said if Proposition 107 were to pass, it would reinforce inequality at ASU.

“This proposition is disingenuous if not completely false,” Wong said. “If we’re a truly colorblind society, graduation rates should be parallel. That argument just doesn’t fly.”

Arizona State Conference NAACP President Wilbert Nelson, another member of the panel, said that racism and fear promote initiatives like Proposition 107.

“You have people like Glenn Beck saying he wants to take America back,” Nelson said. “Ladies and gentlemen, we haven’t gone anywhere.”

While the focus was mostly on how the ballot measure would affect higher education, Nelson said it was important not to forget about other aspects of education the measure could affect.

“We’re focused on higher education because we go to this institution,” Nelson said. “But before you graduate, you still have to get in. We have to be concerned about what this proposition would do to primary and secondary education.”

Rep. Steve Montenegro, R-Litchfield Park, sponsored the initiative in the Arizona Legislature. Montenegro told ASU’s Morrison Institute for Public Policy that the repeal of affirmative action programs returns to the original intent of affirmative action.

“Affirmative action began as a series of policies to expressly prohibit discrimination, but it was warped over time to institutionalize discrimination and, worse still, to convince entire generations that they were not good enough or smart enough to compete,” Montenegro said, according to the Morrison report.

Essen Otu, the diversity and cultural competency director for the Mountain Park Health Center in Phoenix, said beyond education, the passing of this proposition could further devastate the economy.

“It’ll put the financial stability of our state in a really bad place,” Otu said. “People already don’t want to come to this state and the workforce is aging. How will we fill these positions?”

Nelson said funding for other public programs could be hurt as well.

“It would definitely affect public services,” Nelson said. “The reality of it is that it would restrict funding to minorities, funds dedicated to benefiting people of color.”

Panelist Mel Hannah, the director of community outreach and job development for the Greater Phoenix Urban League, said that the ballot is being promoted deceptively.

“The initiative labeling is very misleading,” Hannah said. “It will not treat folks fairly; it will do the opposite.”

Nelson said similar legislation in other states cut retention programs for underrepresented students, and those states are scrambling to reverse it.

“California and Texas put in similar legislation,” Nelson said. “It dropped graduation rates, so they’re slowly re- implementing programs.”

Reach the reporter at mhendley@asu.edu