Friday, February 09, 2007
On this day:

Segregation today, segregation tomorrow...

Segregation forever?

From the University of Alabama Office of Public Relations:

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- The University of Alabama African-American Graduate Student Association’s 2006-2007 Business Plan Competition for African-American Students has named the top seven finalists who will present their plans to a panel of judges on Friday, Feb. 23 from 8:30-11:30 a.m. in 111 AIME Building. ...

The winning business plans will be announced and prizes given at an awards banquet sponsored by the Centre for Entrepreneurship, to be held during African-American Heritage Month and Entrepreneurship Week, Feb. 24-March 3.

“The goal of the event is to encourage the idea of entrepreneurship among African-American students at the University of Alabama,” explained Del Smith, president of the AAGSA.
Can we therefore conclude that this competition was open exclusively to African-American students? Surely not, right? Wouldn't such an overt race-based requirement be against the law? At the very least, wouldn't it would contradict the Univeristy of Alabama's own equal opportunity policies, which state:

The University of Alabama provides equal opportunity in education and employment for all qualified persons regardless of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, age, disability, or veteran status. ...
The University of Alabama complies with applicable laws prohibiting discrimination, including Titles VI and VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, Executive Order 11246, Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, Sections 503 and 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, the Vietnam Era Veterans Adjustment Assistance Act, the Age Discrimination Act of 1975, and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, and does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, age, disability or veteran status in admission or access to, or treatment of employment in, its programs and services.

Apparently, the competition's sponsors don't think so. The eligibility requirements for applicants, as stated in the "official guidelines and application form," are as follows:

1. Eligibility: The competition is open to all African-American UA students in good standing enrolled full time during the Fall 2006 and Spring 2007 semesters. Students may enter as individuals or teams of up to five students; however, an individual or team may not submit more than one business plan. The plan must be the students’ original idea for a new business. Students must meet all competition guidelines and deadlines.
Were this competition being sponsored by student and faculty organizations, independent of the University, this might not be such a big issue. However, one of its sponsors is the UA College of Commerce and Business Administration, which will be providing prize money to one of the winning teams:

Awards will include a grand prize of $2,500, made possible by the UA African American Graduate Student Association; the first runner-up prize of $1,000, made possible by the Culverhouse College of Commerce and Business Administration; and the second runner-up prize of $500, made possible by the UA Black Faculty and Staff Association.
Aside from race-discrimination concerns, the limitation of eligibility to "African-American" students raises a host of other questions and observations.

1) Four percent of UA students are international students who hail from over 86 countries. Some of those students are undoubtedly from Africa, but they are not Americans, so it follows that no international student can participate. Unless, perhaps, "African American" is intended to mean "black."

2) If "African-American" is intended to mean "Americans of African heritage," then that would include those whose ancestors were North African Arabs, Berbers, and Moors. It would also include South African Boers. And let's not forget the Jews, who have settled in Africa since at least the time of Abraham. Unless, perhaps, "African American" is intended to mean those of African heritage whose ancestors were from sub-Saharan Africa and who were brought to America as slaves.

3) If "African-American" is intended to mean "black," then an entirely different set of questions arises - questions that held a great deal of importance not long ago. Things like, "how black is 'black enough?'" If, for example, there had been some uncertainty with regard to an applicant's race, would his eligibility have been determined based on the one-drop rule or something else?

4) If Barack Obama were a student at UA, would he be eligible to participate in this competition? What about Colin Powell? Tiger Woods? Teresa Heinz Kerry? Sally Hemings?

5) Would it be acceptable for the University to sponsor a competition in which the applicant pool was limited to European-Americans or Asian-Americans or Mexican-Americans or Italian-Americans?

6) Why limit eligibility to African-Americans to begin with? Do the sponsors believe that African-Americans are somehow incapable of competing against students of other ethnic backgrounds?

It's terribly sad that we have to ask such questions forty-four years after Martin Luther King, Jr. invited us to share in his dream of racial equality. In a system where important decisions are based on racial classifications, though, there is no other choice.

Where is Ward Connerly when you need him?