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June 6, 2013

Office of Affirmative Action now called Office of Institutional Equity

Name changed amidst Supreme Court case

By Christina Sanders

When Yulanda-McCarty Harris, J.D. accepted the position as director of the Office of Affirmative Action at Cleveland State University in November of 2012, one of the first items on her agenda was to change the name of the university’s “Office of Affirmative Action” to the “Office of Institutional Equity.”

Harris believes that the name change is essential to shaping the direction of the university and the office.

“The word ‘affirmative action’ has always had such a negative connotation,” Harris said. “We have to move beyond black and white.”

Before taking the position at Cleveland State University Harris worked in a similar position at Youngstown State University.

The approval of the name change comes at a time when calls for affirmative action reform have been creeping up left and right.

In spite of the recent affirmative action cases that have been dominating the news such as the Fisher v. University of Texas case, CSU sociology professor, Calvin Moore, J.D. feels that the name change is much needed.

“It was a smart move overall, because of the negative implications the word “affirmative action” has for fifty percent of the population,” Moore says, “People for some reason like to relate affirmative action to filling spots with underqualified people and that’s not the case.”

Fisher v. University of Texas-Austin, which is currently before the United States Supreme Court, involves a Caucasian student who failed to be admitted to the University of Texas-Austin in 2008 after she felt that she fit the criteria of the incoming class that year.

Texas House Bill 588, known to most as the “Top 10% Rule/Law” grants all Texas students who graduate in the top 10 percent of their high school class admittance to all state-funded schools in Texas, including the University of Texas-Austin.

Some have argued that Texas House Bill 588 is the state’s answer to cries across the nation for affirmative action reform.

Marta Tienda, from Princeton University, argues in her paper, “Affirmative Action and The Texas Top 10% Percent Admission Law: Balancing Equity and Access to Higher Education” that the law’s intent is to promote diversity by admitting to higher education all students who are qualified to attend them, regardless of what school the student attended. This system would in turn eliminate the thinking that minorities are not qualified to attend the institutions they attend.

The student who brought the case before the United States Supreme Court did not graduate in the top 10 percent of her high school class.

One of the reasons why Harris proposed the name change is because she would like to eliminate black and white quota conversations. Harris wants to send a message that discrimination and diversity issues are not only limited to race and gender relations. Diversity and discrimination are issues that come in many forms other than the ones that are continually discussed.

“I wanted to send a message of inclusiveness,” Harris said.

Changing the name of the office, Harris feels, will eliminate the distraction that comes with the term ‘affirmative action’ and put the needs of students and faculty first.

“When people hear the word ‘affirmative action’ they don’t like it,” Harris said. “They think black and white, they think problems, they think gender. We want to let you know that everyone is included and can come if they have an issue.”

Harris feels that her message is particularly important to students because they are the ones that would be impacted most by an incident.

“It becomes a self-esteem issue that they take with them through their entire lives,” Harris said. “It would affect their job choice, and you can’t have a job when you’re questioning whether or not you can do that job. I’m all about empowering people.”

Cleveland State University is not the only university that has changed the name of its office. Universities nationwide have already changed the names of their offices from the “Office of Affirmative Action” to the “Office of Institutional Equity.”

“I like the word ‘equity’,” Harris said. “It doesn’t have the same connotation affirmative action does.

It implies equality, which best describes the original goals of affirmative action.”