The controversial discussion of affirmative action inspired by the College Republicans’ bake sale on March 19 led to an equally heated panel dialogue on the subject on April 16. The panel consisted of six students and two professors with various positions on the issue, ranging from sophomore and chair of the College Republicans Noah Lebowitz to Associate Professor of Anthropology Thomas Gibson, a co-signer of a letter to President Jackson demanding action against the College Republicans. The dialogue began with introductory statements by all panelists stating their positions on affirmative action. It soon progressed to questions and occasional statements from the audience. Lebowitz repeated the College Republican’s argument from the bake sale. “You don’t help those people by letting them get into college at a lower standard,” he said. Junior Clarence Hardy was the other representative of the College Republicans on the panel. As a black man, he felt that accusations the College Republicans were racist was unfounded. “[Hardy and Lebowitz] are pretty much leading the College Republicans,” he said later. “The only reason I can think of people saying that [we are racist] is they aren’t informed. They hear ‘Republicans’ and they automatically think, ‘racist, bigots.’ They jump to the stereotype and we just don’t fit those.” Lebowitz and Hardy were the only panelists opposed to affirmative action. The other panelists were Gibson, freshman and Political Chair of the Black Students Union Marquis Harrison, sophomore and College Democrats representative Nat Powell, senior and Admissions Chair of the Minority Students Advisory Board Moises de Jesus, senior and member of the UR Diversity Roundtable Stephanie Fitzpatrick and Assistant Professor of English Karen Beckman. The dialogue was organized and sponsored by many student groups and administration offices. It was moderated by Assistant Professor of English and head coach of the debate team Sam Nelson and Minority Student Affairs counselor Gladys Pedraza-Burgos. Though the remaining six panelists all supported affirmative action, they disagreed on what the appropriate response to the bake sale was. Beckman and Gibson had both co-signed Assistant Professor of Political Science James Johnson’s letter demanding a response to the bake sale from the administration. “We ask that – at a minimum – the university immediately, forthrightly and publicly denounce this activity as inappropriate in our intellectual community,” the letter said. “We do not see this as a matter of free speech.”Other panelists argued that the bake sale was an acceptable way to send a message. Powell, speaking for the College Democrats, repeated their position that the voicing of political issues was a positive thing, even if they disagreed with those issues. In the question period, most questions were directed at Lebowitz rather than other panelists. “The only problem was that literally half the questions, maybe even more, were directed at Noah, so not everyone got to answer questions,” Hardy said. “Altogether we spent about six hours planning an event, which we hoped to be fair and encourage a discourse that all participants would feel comfortable partaking in,” Lebowitz said. “I think we somewhat failed in meeting this goal. I was placed in an extremely ‘hostile environment,’ with a large majority of the audience and panel attacking not only my views, but attacking me personally for holding those views.”Some people at the dialogue felt that the College Republicans were racist. “I was extremely saddened by some of the viewpoints I heard expressed that evening,” Beckman said. “I also was horrified by the [suggestion] that the minority students at the University of Rochester are somehow inferior to the white students, a claim which has no basis in admissions practices or in my experience in the classroom.”Lebowitz understood where that belief could have come from. “I admit that my unprepared remarks could have at times been phrased in a more sensitive and tactful manner,” he said. “[But] I stand behind the fundamental principles that supported those remarks.”Even so, he felt that accusations of racism were unfounded. “That might make me the first Jewish white supremacist,” he later said.Freshman Feisal Adan thought the dialogue went well overall. “It was a healthy dialogue, only we needed more Republicans to say their point of view,” he said. However, he was not convinced by the arguments against affirmative action. “Next time, the Republicans [should] protest that the primary and secondary level of education are [discriminatory].”Levesque can be reached at clevesque@campustimes.org.



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