With recent protests and dialogue about race on campus, students of the class Rhetoric 354: Argumentative Theory decided to host a debate focusing on the merits and pitfalls of affirmative action.
Entitled, “Should Race Matter?” the debate took place on Wednesday in Science I and focused on affirmative action in college admissions which, according to Cornell University Law School, is defined as a set of policies designed to eliminate unlawful discrimination between applicants.
The debate was split up with two people arguing on each side of the issue. Daniel Milyavsky, a senior majoring in biology, and Luke Kusick, a freshman majoring in economics, argued in opposition of affirmative action while Trevor Reddick, a senior double-majoring in English and philosophy, and Joe Weil, an English professor, argued in favor.
Milyavsky argued that affirmative action creates more problems than it tries to fix. He said policies based on income, instead of race, would make more sense.
“The United States federal government has been completely racist in the past,” Milyavsky said. “So why would you trust that very same government to fix the problems it created?”
Weil spoke personally about his experience growing up in a working-class family.
“It’s an impossibility to be color-blind,” he said. “People are not going to eradicate color — and why should they? The myth out there is that it somehow jeopardizes white middle-class futures. That’s a myth disproven by statistics. You pretty much end up wherever your parents are.”
According to Reddick, minority applications to universities double — and sometimes even triple — wherever affirmative policies are in place.
Kusick countered that after affirmative action was ended at University of California, Berkeley, more black students began to graduate from colleges across the state.
“What we need is actual progress,” Kusick said. “Affirmative action is not helping, it’s hurting.”
Reddick also disputed arguments that racism is no longer mainstream. Reddick cited the Campus Climate Survey, by the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, which reported that 58 percent of African-American faculty have experienced some form of harassment, while 60 percent of African-American students also reported experiencing harassment.
Bianca Anderson, a sophomore majoring in English and one of the organizers of the debate, said that recent events and discussions about race on campus have made the discussion on affirmative action as appropriate as ever.
“It’s definitely a relevant issue now because of the events that happened with Students for Change and President Stenger,” Anderson said. “We think it’s applicable to the environment on campus now.”
In the end, 37 of the 60 attendees voted in support of affirmative action. Fiona Tarzy, who helped organize the event, said that this result did not surprise her because she and her team had a difficult time finding anyone willing to speak out against affirmative action.
“So many people were reluctant to represent the opposing side of this debate,” said Tarzy, a junior double-majoring in business administration and philosophy, politics and law.
Though the vote came out in favor of affirmative action, Deborah Tirsun, a junior majoring in neuroscience, said that she was not convinced one way or another.
“Both sides raised really good points and it was nice to see a statistical point of view and a personal point of view based on anecdotes and personal touches,” she said. “But I’m not sure. I have to keep thinking honestly.”