Affirmative Action?

I recently went to a lecture by Dr. Liliana Garces, from Pennsylvania State University on the implications that the 2013 Supreme Court decision Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin has had on American post-secondary institutions.

Abigail Fisher had applied to the University of Texas and was rejected. Fisher, who is white, filed a lawsuit that argued that she had been victim to racial discrimination because minorities with less impressive credentials had been accepted. Students argued that race should not be used in the admissions process if there are other race-neutral ways the institution could effectively obtain diversity. The court decided that “race-neutral” forms of obtaining diversity such as the top 10% plan were not sufficient in maintaining and increasing the school’s diversity. The court didn’t upturn Affirmative Action, but did decide that Affirmative Action programs in institutions must be under ‘strict scrutiny’ and that schools must effectively document their need to use race as an admissions factor. They will need to prove that there are no other means for obtaining race diversity in a community.

Dr. Garces spoke about the importance of looking at the intent of Affirmative Action programs. She talked about the importance of diversity to learning communities because it increases critical thinking, civic engagement and decreases prejudices. Diversity is important to preventing the harms that come from racial separation like stereotypes. Garces feels that these policies need to be in place in order for there to be diversity. She talked about how it is difficult to entirely separate race from the admissions process. Even without Affirmative Action, the Top 10% plan and “race-blind” application processes, which are attempts to remove race as a factor are still rooted in race issues and still allow universities to consider race in admissions.

In her lecture, Garces talked about some of her issues with the color-blind framework. People often consider classifying people on the basis of race as negative, but she says that it can be important to opening up the topic for discussion. Race often operates at a sub-conscious level and to Garces, identifying race can allow us to see the difference between the things that are law and what is happening in our social reality.  People often feel underpowered when talking about race out of fear that talking about race makes you racist. I think that it is important for people to feel comfortable talking about these issues.

Affirmative Action might not be the only tool for combatting the actual issues here. Numbers are important, but it goes beyond just admissions.  It is important to look at how race is affecting our everyday interactions. What kinds of experiences are people having and how do we use these as a way to learn how to better have an inclusive community? I wonder what ways we can take initiative within St. Olaf to make race an issue that we attempt to overcome and to make it part of our everyday discussions. I think that events like AuthenticOles are a good way to make people aware and are positive first steps in this process. Getting people engaged in the discussion about race would be positive for all of us.

Are Casinos in New York a Good Idea?

There has been a recent controversy in my home city, Rochester, NY, about the proposed construction of a casino. The Seneca Nation of Indians, working through Seneca Gaming Corps., has bought 32 acres of land in the town of Henrietta (a town within the Greater Rochester limits). They intend to use this land to create a full-service casino and will now, as of this purchase, begin to engage the community in discussion about the benefits of such a casino in the community.

Andrew Cuomo, our current governor in New York, this year put a proposal on the ballot that would allow casino gaming in certain areas of the state. The idea is that it will attract tourism, promote job creation and encourage money to be spent within the state, as opposed to all of this money leaving the state when New Yorkers go elsewhere to find casinos.

This issue will be influenced by citizens of the town. Despite a federal law that gives the U.S. Secretary of the Interior the final say on this matter, the community hopes its voice will be heard. One sector of the town of Henrietta has formed the No More Casino Coalition, which includes a petition against construction of the casino.

Backlash against the construction has mostly fallen into social and economic concerns. Some members of the community are concerned that the community will lose its character with the addition of a casino. They are concerned that it will attract a troublesome crowd and become less family-friendly.

These concerns are not particularly worrisome to me, because studies reveal that casinos mostly attract upper and middle class people to the area. In addition, this town has plenty of things that make it less family-friendly including a lot of strip clubs and bars. The economic issues are more pertinent to discuss.

Many believe that casinos are particularly beneficial to the economic development of communities. One thing that a lot of casinos have going for them are the tax revenues that they can produce. But I think that this casino will be unable to benefit the community in this way because it is almost entirely tax-exempt because it is on Native American lands and run by Native Americans.

Research also suggests that particularly rural areas are most likely to be positively affected by the construction of a casino. It can, yes, increase tourism, and create jobs, stimulating the economy. However, I think we should think about the fact that his town is not particularly rural. The economic success a casino can bring to a community is extremely effected by the exact area is it being built and its surroundings. I think that most people are assuming that statistics from rural successes will apply to our own community, which, to me, is problematic.

I am concerned that local businesses will be unable to compete with a huge project like this. Casinos are often essentially self-sustaining and are basically communities within themselves. I imagine that local businesses in the area could be eaten up by this. For example, nearby hotels and restaurants will not be needed because they are provided within the casino and a lot of labor is not even brought in from within the county.

I think that as we consider the impact a casino might have on the community, it will be very important to consider our county as its own entity that will respond to this in its own unique way. I hope that they also consider that the majority of voters in the county were against the referendum proposed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo. This referendum allows for the construction of casinos in upstate New York, not run by Native American tribes. While that is a slightly different issue, I think that it is important to consider the public’s impression of non-tribal casinos when attempting to make a decision about the impact a casino has in general on a community.

In conclusion, I think that the construction of a casino in Rochester, New York is a risk that we must be prepared for and that might not be necessary to the overall economic success of our city.

Michigan’s Insurance Law

The state of Michigan passed a law this week that does not allow insurance policies in the state to cover abortions. This measure will require women to purchase an additional insurance if they would like to have the procedure done. I believe that much of the controversy lies in the fact that primary insurance plans will only cover an abortion if the mother is in danger for her life, but not in the case of rape or incest.

Supporters of this bill cite that such a measure will allow those who don’t agree with abortion to not have to buy into an insurance plan that supports it. This also prevents them from spending their money to pay into an insurance plan they don’t agree with.

Contrarily, many people criticize the bill for requiring women to purchase insurance so that they are specifically covered if they are raped. Those calling it “rape- insurance” are concerned that such a bill suggests that women ought to plan for the possibility of being raped, when unexpected pregnancy in this way was not her fault.

I think that passing a law like this is interesting and troublesome. It seems important to allow women to have access to this procedure, as part of their ability to be ambassadors of their own health choices. By not providing accessible coverage for it, women are being restricted in this way. According to the Department of Community Health, only 3% of Michigan’s abortions were paid for with insurance. From this perspective, I wonder if the few amount abortions covered by insurance is due to a lack of accessibility to coverage in Michigan. The rest of the country, at least in reference to private insurance companies, covers abortions well.

I wonder then, what is different about Michigan other than the fact that it had a strong public interest group supporting the law, despite Governor Rick Snyder’s veto. I think it has something to do with where people are placing their efforts.

I personally feel that instead of putting efforts into passing a law that is so clearly partisan and controversial, it might be more effective to support laws that can do the greater population good in other ways. The law talked about above deals with some issues of sexual rights, but there are other topics in this area that should be considered, as well.

For example, to speak on rights in sexuality, I am more likely to support a bill that advocates for safety and legal regulation in the adult-film industry. I think that no matter where you fall on the spectrum of support or not on this issue, it can be agreed that men and women who choose to participate in this deserve a respectful and professional community that will allow them to safely produce the work they enjoy. Thinking that an action is inherently bad does not excuse the right to people’s safety and being able to work in a non-exploitative environment. This is also, of course, a controversial issue, but could maybe do more for the greater good of our society. But, who knows.

The passing of Michigan’s abortion law has made me consider the importance of passing, possibly less partisan laws that could at least allow for the dignity and rights of all people. I’m not sure how to solve the controversy about how much freedom people should have when it infringes on the values of others, but I think that these are issues also worth considering.