by Myra Saturen
February 27, 2013
"Is affirmative action a fair concept in education?" Members of Phi Theta Kappa (PTK) Aaron Calhoun, Marcus Katyuski and Oliver Padino argued in favor of the policy, while NCC Student Senators Charles Moronski, Angel Diaz and Katlane Seema took a stance against it during a debate sponsored by the Martin Luther King, Jr. Committee as part of Northampton Community College's celebration of Black History Month and the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King.
Deft in defense of their sides, students did not necessarily voice their own views. Rather, their arguments reflected research of assigned positions. Both teams used editorials, the Bakke legal case, historical documents, and especially the words of Dr. Martin Luther King to support their arguments.
Judges included Denise Francois Seeney, dean of business and technology; Gregory Martin, resident director; and Harold Levy, adjunct professor of sociology. The moderator of the annual event was Sholomo Levy, assistant professor of history.
Opening arguments included:
• PTK: Misconceptions about affirmative action abound, including -- that it is about racial quotas. Rather, the practice allows race and ethnic background to be considered on a case-by-case basis as a factor in college admissions. That it is a free ride; instead, students admitted under affirmative action must still have the necessary qualifications to enroll, and thereafter are held to the same standards as all students. That it reduces the value of academic achievement; rather, it is less plutocratic than SAT scores, which favor wealthier students with the advantages of better schools and SAT tutoring. In support of colleges and universities with affirmative action policies, PTK cited a study showing that schools with affirmative action policies have more diverse student bodies that perform better in problem-solving situations than do schools without affirmative action and with homogenous populations.
•Student Senate: Affirmative action was initiated by President John F. Kennedy in times that differ from our own; in 1961 racial segregation, brutality and discrimination prevailed; by contrast, segregated restrooms and other facilities do not exist today. An African American, Barack Obama, is president now. More women, African Americans, Asians and Hispanics sit in Congress than ever before. Moreover, President Kennedy considered affirmative action a temporary measure for workplaces. It is not necessary today. In 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King shared his dream that his children would be judged not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. Thomas Jefferson wrote that "all men are created equal" and that "they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." Racism is still with us, but racial preference is not the best way to level the playing field. Perceptions about affirmative action damage the credibility of all members of minority groups. Affirmative action discriminates against qualified people of minority groups not represented in its implementation. It creates more intergroup conflict. It is unconstitutional in that it violates the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, which states that "no state shall ... deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws."
In the second round, the Student Senate made these points:
•Affirmative action treats people as members of a group, rather than as individuals. People want to be recognized for their individual merits. The policy lowers self-esteem and sets racial and ethnic groups against each other.
The PTK team rebutted with these statements:
•Diversity encompasses more than skin color. It is a broader concept, including race as only one element. It embraces background, outlook, gender, and more. Discrimination is still a fact: students at failing public schools tend to be minority children. Meanwhile, the wealth gap between whites and people of color continues to deepen. This division of wealth is the largest since 1984, when census records of income began to be kept. Delusions of equality persist; King's dream is not yet achieved in a society where African Americans are still not judged by the content of their characters. Affirmative action, rather than lowering standards or admitting students unfairly, provides opportunity where it might have been hindered. It does not wash away centuries of discrimination in one generation.
Closing arguments by PTK and Student Senators referred to time. PTK members quoted King from his Letter from Birmingham Jail that "now is the time to lift our national policy from the quicksand of racial injustice to the solid rock of human dignity." Student Senate debaters said that "25 years from now we will look at affirmative action as not working. It discriminates and segregates."
Both teams soundly agreed on two points: that K-12 education and educational diversity in higher education are important and valuable. Each team quoted King's writings in defense of their positions.
The judges praised both teams for raising strong points and determined PTK the winner. They named Aaron Calhoun best individual performer.