The Leadership Conference is working diligently to see that Tom Perez is confirmed as U.S. Secretary of Labor. Perez is an eminently qualified public servant and consensus builder who has dedicated his career to ensuring that all individuals are treated fairly and have the opportunity to succeed. He has served with integrity and distinction at the local, state and national level, compiling an outstanding record of achievement.
Hundreds of Women in Michigan Discuss Effects of Ending Affirmative Action
Feature Story by Anjali Thakur - 3/17/2005Eliminating affirmative action in Michigan would have a significant negative impact on women, according to speakers at a state-wide summit held on March 11.
At the first-ever event of its kind, hundreds of women from across Michigan were connected through technology to discuss the importance of programs that address disparities in higher education and employment for Michigan women.
Through teleconferencing, the "Michigan Women's Summit 2005: Challenges to Equity," brought together 600 women at three locations: Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, Michigan State University in Lansing, and the University of Michigan in Dearborn.
Leading women's groups in Michigan co-sponsored the event, which also focused on the potential consequences of Ward Connerly's so-called Michigan Civil Rights Initiative (MCRI) that aims to end equal opportunity and affirmative action programs in the state.
After the teleconferenced portion of the summit, participants at each of the sites joined in regional workshops to discuss the consequences of Connerly's MCRI, and how local cities, communities, and regions can educate others about the importance of equal opportunity and affirmative action programs.
Connerly's MCRI submitted signatures to the state in January in an attempt to qualify the initiative for the November 2006 ballot. (See story.) Connerly, who initiated the campaign in Michigan, is best known as the California-based businessman and former University of California regent who successfully led similar anti-affirmative ballot initiatives in California in 1996 and Washington state in 1998.
Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm opened the event by emphasizing the importance of equal opportunity programs in the state and the importance of diversity in the ever-expanding global workforce.
The women presidents from four Michigan universities and colleges - University of Michigan President Mary Sue Coleman, Western Michigan University President Judi Bailey, Michigan State University President Lou Anna Simon, and Lansing Community College President Paula Cunningham - spoke on a panel that acknowledged the importance of preserving equal opportunity and affirmative action programs in higher education. Building on Governor Granholm's opening remarks, they said that creating a diverse faculty and student body helps prepare students for a global workforce.
The panel was moderated by Paul Hillegonds, president of Detroit Renaissance and former speaker of the Michigan House of Representatives. Detroit Renaissance, a civil organization of business leaders, focuses on economic development in Detroit.
Bailey criticized the characterization of affirmative action as "preferential treatment," a phrase used by affirmative action opponents. Bailey said that once the doors are open to an individual, the individual must be able to meet the standards set by the university.
"One of the things that we have not been able to do is change the internal culture to get rid of the covert discrimination that is harming the progress of our young women and minority students, staff and faculty," Bailey said. "Whether we call it affirmative action or respect for each other, those issues are prevalent and we need to deal with them in the right manner."
Coleman described the MCRI campaign as misleading in its information about the initiative's impact on the public.
Addressing the initiative's backers' claims, she asked, "What was the rhetoric, what is the reality?"
Another panel discussed new research that highlights how gender-specific community and public health programs, such as breast, cervical, and prostate cancer screening and domestic violence programs, could be in jeopardy if Connerly's MCRI initiative passes.
The new report from the Center for the Education of Women at the University of Michigan, "The Gender Impact of the Proposed Michigan Civil Rights Initiative," states that education and outreach programs for girls and women in areas such as science, math, and technology - along with programs to give women and minority-owned businesses fair opportunities in obtaining government contracts - could end.
"I'd like people to understand that the impact of this initiative could be quite broad," said Susan W. Kaufmann, co-author of the report and associate director of Michigan's Center for the Education of Women. "We know that much of the public discussion in California focused only on race and we wanted the public to understand that this could lead to significantly negative effects for women, too."
Judy Karandjeff, executive director of the Michigan Women's Commission, emphasized the report's findings.
"It is clear, eliminating affirmative action programs would hurt virtually every woman in Michigan in ways that most have not even considered," Karandjeff said. "This conference is opening eyes and minds to the importance that outreach, gender-specific and affirmative action programs have to our state's economic and social well-being."
Western Michigan University student Diadrian Washington left the summit with a better understanding of the importance of discussing issues regarding gender differences and inequities that still exist.
"After seeing the heavy weight names attached to it and the magnitude of the event, I just had to come to learn what I can do to help myself and other women in the community," she said.
Other speakers at the event included Debbie Dingell, vice-chair of the General Motors Foundation; Dr. Nanette Reynolds, former director of the Michigan Department of Civil Rights; Elizabeth Bunn, secretary-treasurer of the United Auto Workers; Chief Audrey Falcon of the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe; Desiree Cooper, Detroit Free Press columnist and media personality; Kimberle Williams Crenshaw, professor at UCLA and Columbia law schools; and Llenda Jackson-Leslie, president of the National Women's Political Caucus.
The summit was organized by Michigan United and co-sponsors included the Women's Economic Club; Michigan Women's Commission; Michigan Business and Professional Women; Michigan League of Women Voters; Coalition for Labor Union Workers; Michigan Council of the YWCAs; American Association of University Women of Michigan; Michigan Conference NOW/National Organization for Women; National Council of Jewish Women/Greater Detroit Section; Delta Sigma Theta Sorority; the National Women's Political Caucus; and the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights Education Fund/Americans for a Fair Chance.