BY MIKE WISER
The first time most students heard about the HLS Committee on Multi-Cultural Unity (CMCU) was when they received a survey in their box asking them for their perspective on affirmative action. That’s not surprising, since the Committee was only formed in the fall and the current official membership of 17 comes primarily from Section VI. Still, CMCU President Tony Phillips has big plans for the organization.
Phillips and other members of the group say that they felt the Committee was needed at HLS to increase multicultural dialogue.
“There are certain affinity groups like the Black Law Students Association, which some of us are also members of, and there is like Alianza and all of the other affinity groups, but there is never an organization or group that tries to join those two together and actually have any dialogue,” 1L Jacqueline Brown told the RECORD.
Phillips said he was involved in a similar group as an undergraduate. “The traditional affinity groups have often been a tough fit for me because my parents are of different races. I thought there should be a place where people of all races could feel comfortable having the same kind of ‘real’ discussions that are often restricted to more homogenous peer groups or organizations,” he said.
To foster discussion, CMCU organizes surveys, like the one on affirmative action. The surveys then become the starting point for a dialogue on the issue. Brown, who helped to organize the survey, explained that although members of the group may have their own feelings, the committee does not adopt any official view on the issues that it discusses.
According to Phillips, “The purpose is to create a space where people can talk about the hard issues without being labeled a racist, a bigot, or any other term that does little more than stifle discussion.”
Treasurer Farzad Samimi explained that the surveys help to fulfill that mission by letting students express views they would not be able to otherwise. The surveys, he said, “get people to talk about feelings that they would otherwise have kept to themselves.”
Given all of the recent controversy at the Law School, CMCU has its work cut out for it in improving multi-cultural dialogue. Phillips laments the fact that the committee hasn’t yet played a greater role in helping to resolve the recent disputes. While he admits there will always be racists and bigots, he hopes that CMCU can help to prevent racial turmoil like this. “We will deconstruct many of the misconceptions bred of simple inexperience that lead to insensitive or ignorant actions,” he said.
Besides struggling against racial insensitivity, CMCU also has to struggle to increase its membership and broaden the organization next year. According to Phillips, similar groups have been formed in the past, but dissolved after their leadership left. “Our goal is to make CMCU something sustainable so that future generations of HLS students will be able to build upon what we’ve started,” he said.
For it’s first survey and discussion, CMCU decided to take on affirmative action at HLS.
“We were just kind of talking in one of our meetings and somebody mentioned that they didn’t know if there was affirmative action or anything like it. And somebody said, ‘How can you not know that?’ I guess a lot of people were feeling like they didn’t know, so we were wondering what kind of the general consensus was at the school,” Brown said.
The Committee decided to try to gauge student opinion on affirmative action through a three-question survey. Slightly over 100 students returned the survey, which was distributed to student Hark boxes.
Brown admits that the survey results aren’t scientific, since surveys were only returned by those who wanted to express their views. Still, according to CMCU, the point of the survey was to provide a basis for an open discussion on diversity and affirmative action at HLS, which will take place today starting at 5:45 in Pound 200.
According to the survey, 27 percent of respondents said that they weren’t sure whether there was affirmative action at the Law School. Sixty-four percent felt that there was affirmative action and eight percent felt that there wasn’t.
Far more students (42 percent) were unsure on whether or not the current admissions standards select the best students for admission. Thirty-six percent felt that the standards did a poor job in selecting candidates for admission, while twenty-one percent defended current admission practice.
The survey also asked students what criteria should be included in deciding admissions. By far the most popular was socio-economic standing which seventy-seven percent said should be considered. dered. Sixty-nine percent and 56 percent, respectively, supported using race and ethnicity in admissions. At the bottom was legacy (having parents or relatives who have attended HLS), which only 11 percent of the survey respondents said should be considered.