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Interview with Monique Luse

Supporting Affirmative Action in Michigan
"Both attacks on affirmative action and globalization
involve a sense of neglecting the other"

Ann Arbor, Michigan

Monique Luse.
Monique Luse.

Monique Luse is a junior, majoring in political science, and African and African American studies at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. She is co-founder of Students Supporting Affirmative Action, Vice-Speaker of the Black Student Union, and Co-chair of the Minority Affairs Commission of the Michigan Student Assembly. The interview was conducted by phone (from San Diego) for In Motion Magazine by Nic Paget-Clarke, January 8, 2002.

Challenged in Court

In Motion Magazine: What was the affirmative action case that was just heard at the Federal Appeals Court in Cincinnati?

Monique Luse: It was a case against both our undergraduate admissions affirmative action policies and our law school admissions policies.

When they were first challenged, at the district court level, the undergraduate admissions policies were held up as being constitutional, and the law school admissions policies were found to be unconstitutional.

With the recent appeals cases, there was one day of oral arguments on both sides. They did the undergraduate case and then they did the law school case -- all in one day.

On the university side of the cases, there were the university lawyers and two sets of interveners, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and the ACLU. On the other side, the Center for Individual Rights (CIR) are the people who brought both suits. Although there are two individual's names in each suit, it's the CIR lawyers and money who brought the suits against the university.

In Motion Magazine: Who are the CIR?

Monique Luse: They are a group of lawyers. All of the cases against affirmative action at the college level have been brought by them. In Texas and in Washington, it's also been CIR.

In Motion Magazine: What is their claim?

Monique Luse: Their claim is that race-based admissions, or preferences, in admissions are unconstitutional. Because it is illegal to discriminate on the basis of race, by using race as a preference we are discriminating against those of a different race.

In Motion Magazine: What do you think?

Monique Luse: I think that affirmative action is a policy that has a specific purpose. It is not the end-all, be-all of solving racial inequality in America. It may not even be the best solution. But it is a solution that works. The demographic changes at the University of Michigan due to affirmative action have been astronomical.

When my aunt and uncle went to the University of Michigan, they were members of one of the first few classes to be admitted under affirmative action. Prior to that time, there weren't any other Black students. Now, we are looking at maybe 7 or 8 percent, but when they were here it was four to six. That's a good change in 30 years that's due directly to affirmative action.

In the years prior to that, Black students at the University of Michigan weren't allowed to live on campus. They were forced to live in housing in nearby cities.

Big changes have been made not only by admissions policies but also by the subsequent policies, such as recruitment and retention programs and scholarships geared towards admitting and keeping minority students in college.

For minority students, it's those subsequent recruitment and retention programs they fear will be cut as a result of the end of affirmative action. The scholarships, the grants for programming, the minority affairs offices make this a place where students of color can thrive and survive. The lack of these policies completely blocks the chances of higher education for most minorities.

That's the secondary concern among the students that I work with. The affirmative action case is not just about admissions. It's not just about students getting in to the university. It's about losing all those policies that greatly benefit students at the University of Michigan.

Organizing buses of students

In Motion Magazine: How did you participate in the court case?

Monique Luse: We brought students. Although, the actual courtroom where the case was tried could seat maybe a hundred people, they had an overflow room with a video feed and most of the students that I coordinated to bring were in the video-feed room.

Also, there was a rally that the NAACP put on in Cincinnati. We attended that. It was a horrible day -- very, very rainy, very, very miserable -- but people went out there and they had their signs and they did their chanting. They tried to show their support as best they could.

What we tried to do was to bring as many people as possible and also bring back the information to keep students on campus aware.

In Motion Magazine: How many people attended these events?

Monique Luse: The neighboring college to the University of Michigan is Eastern Michigan. Eastern Michigan had three of four buses come from their university. Between the different groups on our campus we had four buses as well. It was a week before our finals and there was horrible rain and snow, but I think attendance was 1,000 people at the rally and then all the seats in the courtroom and the overflow room - all those were full.

Also, we had a town hall meeting at the University of Cincinnati organized by their NAACP along with the National Youth in College division of NAACP, and the United States Students Association after the trial.

Later in the evening, we had another town hall meeting. There were students from Eastern Michigan University and representatives from the University of California, the University of Wisconsin, and others giving different perspectives on what the affirmative action situation has been like on their campuses. What the recruitment and retention policies and programs have been like on their campuses. We compared notes is the best way to put it. It was a successful program.

In Motion Magazine: How many people came to that event?

Monique Luse: The town hall meeting, in and out, 200.

Historical wrongs

In Motion Magazine: Did you feel that everybody got to say what they wanted to say at the hearings?

Monique Luse: I don't know. It was great that there were interveners, especially the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and the ACLU because they can bring different perspectives to the court in the defense of affirmative action. The university pretty much has to defend affirmative action based upon past legal precedents on diversity, as the best route that they have chosen. They have to say that affirmative action is important because it creates diversity on college campuses and on our campus, that diversity is a state interest, that diversity is important to the University of Michigan.

But the NAACP Legal Defense Fund can bring up and attack historical racism. They can bring up the need for affirmative action to correct and mend the previous exclusion of minorities at the University of Michigan. Especially at the University of Michigan and in general higher education. They brought up the exclusion of minorities and how affirmative action is meant to mend that exclusion, to correct historical wrongs. They were able to bring that sort of historical perspective while the university had to deal much more with diversity as their only defense of affirmative action. Based upon the standards created by pervious courts, “diversity as a state interest” is the last legally viable reason to support affirmative action. This however illustrates the disconnect between the university and the students opinions about affirmative action.

I think that the students that went were much more compelled, especially students of color, to appreciate the arguments presented by the NAACP Legal Defense Fund because those arguments make more sense to our experience on campus.

With the defense of diversity, if you are at the University of Michigan, and you are of color, you recognize that there really isn't the diversity that they are talking about. What they are doing is a slap in the face, on a level, because you sit in your classes and you know what it's like to feel racism at the University of Michigan. If the University of Michigan isn't talking about that racism, you feel as alienated as you usually feel as a student of color at a predominantly white university.

It's good to see the interveners be able to present different arguments.

In Motion Magazine: What was the result of the hearing? What did the judges say?

Monique Luse: We don't know yet.

In Motion Magazine: Do you know when you will know?

Monique Luse: No. It's whenever they want to tell us.

Impacts of the anti-affirmative action lawsuits

In Motion Magazine: What are the potential impacts of their decision?

Monique Luse: If we win, it means that next year's admissions will have affirmative action. I think CIR will definitely try to get an injunction and appeal to the Supreme Court. If we lose our cases, we will appeal to the Supreme Court. In the meantime, perhaps we will be able to get an injunction, but if not then we won't have affirmative action in admissions in the next school year. This means there will be a dramatic drop like there has been at all the other universities that have lost their affirmative action policies.

There will be less students of color at the University of Michigan, which, I think, for those students who are already here, will make them feel even more alienated, even less a part of the community. The emotional impact will be great on those who understand the true importance of diversity. I think they will feel it initially when they see less students of color at the university of Michigan.

Then, I think, it will impact the type of funding that we'll be able to get for programming, whether it be for cultural events or for study nights or parties. When there are more students of color there's more ability to get funding for those types of things. They'll be less of that kind of ethnic programming that enlightens and shares with non-students-of-color but also is really important for the success of students of color. When students of color have programming that meets their cultural needs and speaks to their cultural identities they perform better. It'll be harder to get funding for those types of things.

This decision will impact students already on campus as well as the students who won't even be admitted.

In Motion Magazine: How do you see the efforts to defend affirmative action within the context of civil rights in the United States?

Monique Luse: A lot of people are saying affirmative action is the premier fight for civil rights in the U.S. right now. I tend not to buy into that rhetoric at such a great level. I think if you look at the history of affirmative action you understand that affirmative action was not something that the civil rights leaders of the 1960's picked. It wasn't their policy. It was a policy administered by Lyndon B. Johnson, administered by the U.S. government deciding what it wanted to do to solve the race problem. It wasn't created by people of color or by civil rights leaders.

I don't see it as the end-all be-all solution. I don't think it's the best solution. I think it's the solution that we have now. But I do see the attacks on affirmative action as an attack on inclusion of people of color in American society. It is a position that speaks to the new wave of conservatism in America in public opinion and public policy. I think that the ability of anti-affirmative action leaders and activists to vilifying affirmative action illustrates the presence of racism in American society. The general anti-affirmative action rhetoric appeals to the discomfort that White America has with people of color. That people can buy into the rhetoric speaks to the racism that is still in America. There is still the desire to exclude people of color from access to opportunity, from higher education.

In Motion Magazine: What do you see in the civil rights movement beyond affirmative action?

Monique Luse: I think that we are hitting a point in time where it's passé to talk about racism and classism. There's a sentiment among a lot of people that those things don't exist. That we are living in this very equal and fair society. I think it's hard to say what are the pressing issues of civil rights because people aren't talking about civil rights. There are the issues of fair housing, racial profiling, equal rights for gays and lesbians, and police brutality that are moving forward in some places and backwards in others. I couldn't even tell you what the greater issues going on are because something that is so benign and so moderate as affirmative action is being attacked. Which I think highlights the greatest issue in civil rights. The fact that people won't deal with racism, classism, sexism, homophobia, and racial inequality in America is the greatest issue. People won't even admit that racism exists.

In Motion Magazine: That's the current feeling on campus, or society in general?

Monique Luse: Society in general, but definitely the climate on campus.

In Motion Magazine: Is that pretty frustrating?

Monique Luse: Extremely frustrating. I'm a black woman living in America. I know racism is real and alive. Every day I try to explain to people my experience, to help them understand that it's a real experience and it's a part of a lot of people's reality. Trying to help them understand that they are participating in institutional racism, in social racism. It's very tiring and very daunting. But it's a part of what of I have to do. I don't even think about it being frustrating that much because it's a part of what my life has always been about, and what my life will continue to be about. The only way to change this world is to educate and speak out. The more people who take up the challenge of talking about our nation’s ills the closer we get to curing them. The more we talk about justice, equality, privilege, and access, the closer we get to achieving America, the ideals which promise the things affirmative action does.

Neglecting the other

In Motion Magazine: So, currently the focus is affirmative action?

Monique Luse: It's affirmative action. But a lot of people that are working on affirmative action are also working on global justice, pro-peace, and reparations for Blacks in America. They are working on a lot of other issues.

People who are working on affirmative action are working on it because it's the pressing issue on our campus but it's not the only thing that they are working on.

In Motion Magazine: Is there a connection drawn between racism and globalization?

Monique Luse: I think so. I think those people who understand globalization and those who want to defend affirmative action see that connection as very clear. Maybe those are two small minorities on this campus - but that connection is clear to those who understand both policies.

In Motion Magazine: What is the connection between the affirmative action struggle and globalization?

Monique Luse: They are both about oppression of people of color. They are both about a neglect of seeing the importance of basic human rights, whether that is access to health care, education, or self-determination. They are both about providing opportunity to develop. I think both the attacks on affirmative action and globalization involve a sense of neglecting the other, whether the other be minorities in America or the other be the people of the Southern Hemisphere. Either way you look at it, it's about oppression and exploitation.

Published in In Motion Magazine February 26, 2002.

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