“If you don’t care about my population, I don’t care about you,” Dr. Kimberly Griffen said.

The College of Education professor spoke at a panel hosted by The College of Education’s Graduate Student Organization. The event, held Tuesday evening at McKeldin Library, discussed affirmative action in higher education. 

The event, which attracted a crowd of about 120, focused on panelists’ responses to common myths and questions about affirmative action. The discussion included the distinction between quotas and targets, the media’s role in the public perception of affirmative action and the future of affirmative action on campuses.

Panelists included Griffen, Dr. Janelle Wong and Dr. Nancy Mirabal of the department of American studies at this university, and Dr. Julie Park of the College of Education.

“One of the biggest misconceptions is that people who get into the university because of affirmative action are not qualified,” Mirabal, who self-identified as a beneficiary of affirmative action, said. “Affirmative action got me through the door, but it didn’t take my tests, it didn’t make my GPA and it didn’t write my papers.”

“When there’s any kind of discussion regarding privilege or entitlement in the university, there is fear, and fear leads to ignorance and competition,” Mirabal said.

The panelists provided historical background about affirmative action to the audience, beginning with President Franklin Roosevelt’s Executive Order 8802, which states that defense contractors must pledge not to discriminate when hiring for government-related projects.

The panel then provided an overview of Supreme Court decisions that have upheld the practice of affirmative action at universities.

“I thought it was all I expected it to be. Nothing too much more, nothing too much less,” said Bruk Berhane, moderator of the discussion and coordinator of outreach of recruitment at the school of engineering at UMD. “It was a good starting point, and if those in this room can continue that discussion, that would be even better.”

Attendees said they hoped to learn more about the issue of affirmative action.

“I think some of it’s class, some of it’s race, but we never discuss legacy admissions the same way that we discuss people who got in maybe because of their race,” Timea Webster, 34, a staff member at this university, said.

“This topic came out of the first town hall,” said Donna Wiseman, dean of the College of Education. “The interaction between the moderator, Roger Worthington, and one of the panel members really brought this to the forefront. There was a difference in how people thought about affirmative action. It looked, to me, like it was generational.”

Wong observed that in California, after a 1998 ban on affirmative action, black admissions to universities dropped precipitously.

She noted campus activism is making a difference, but added that “those protests are about climate and not about specific policies like affirmative action. Increasing diversity on campus is going to lead to more recognition of climate issues.”

During the question-and-answer portion of the event, Mike Robinson, the associate director of admissions at this university, noted the admissions department looks for talented, diverse and interesting applicants.

“There’s no one solution,” Robinson said. “There are a lot of things that the admissions office can do, but there are a lot of things the university can do as a whole to increase diversity here on campus.”

While Robinson did not offer a specific suggestion as to what this university could do to increase diversity on campus, he praised what he called President Wallace Loh’s push for a more diverse campus.
“I think it comes from the top down,” he said.“A lot of institutions are not as privileged as the University of Maryland to have a president like Dr. Wallace Loh. He’s got diversity on his mind.”

Featured Photo Credit: Bruk Berhane, 35, moderates a discussion about affirmative action. The panel discussion took place on Tuesday evening at McKeldin Library. (Photo courtesy of Greg Minton)

Editor’s Note: Bruk Berhane’s name was previously misspelled as Burk Berhane. The correct spelling is Bruk Berhane.

Greg Minton is a junior journalism major and can be reached at gminton@umd.edu.

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