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Speak-out spurs activist alliance on education, affirmative action

Nearly two weeks ago, the Affirmative Action Speak-Out held in Firestone Plaza April 1, drew more than 200 people. Last Wednesday's follow-up dinner discussion, "Equal Opportunity: Myth or Reality?" attracted more than 50 students who overflowed from the private Butler College dining room.

Activism is not dead.

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"In the last three weeks, this campus has made me very proud," said Paul Rodney '00, treasurer and former president of the Black Men's Awareness Group. "This campus has begun to act as if they care." Initiated by BMAG and Third World Center governance board member Antony Taylor '01, an ad-hoc group of students from various campus organizations has emerged to discuss issues related to race, affirmative action, and education.

The group of a dozen students includes numerous members of minority organizations as well as members of the USG.

"We don't even have a name yet," said Janelle Wright '00, TWC chair.

"Something's brewing," said Spencer Merriweather '00, USG vice president and group member. "There are now a lot of people who are not only ready to speak out but ready to act."

Taylor, who spearheaded the University's participation in the nationwide affirmative action rallies, said he envisions a broad strategy across Ivy League and East Coast universities to address issues of economic and educational disparity outside of the University.

"We want to talk about how so many people in our generation aren't getting our opportunities (as Princeton students)," Taylor said. "I'm talking about the kids to whom affirmative action does not even apply. My concern is with the kids who are left behind," he said. "So many people don't even know about that."

Minority activism

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Much of the activism on campus has traditionally originated from minority organizations. From last semester's Pachanga conference to the current Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, ethnic-minority students have been active in bringing a new culture to Princeton.

In addition, Taylor said, minority students often are interested in issues of economic and educational disparity because these issues affect their communities directly.

"There is a perception that this is a minority problem and that we have a responsibility as minorities to work on this," Taylor said.

However, the buzz word among those working on the group is "mainstream."

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"We hope to integrate the Princeton community so it doesn't look like we're fighting a minority's war," Rodney said.

During the speak-out, BMAG and the TWC developed a coalition of 13 campus organizations ranging from the Center for Jewish Life to the USG. According to Taylor, the group is developing a coalition that hopes to include all ethnic organizations as well as political and community service groups.

"We, as Princeton students, have to realize that the problem with society is lack of interaction," Taylor said.

Taylor said he is eager to place the movement in broad generational terms. "We have to recognize the big picture. It seems like our generation has gotten progressively more cynical and hopeless. I think we as Princeton students have the potential to change that," he said.

"We're looking for people to take a grassroots approach to helping the disadvantaged instead of waiting until they're 40 to make policy," Rodney said.

According to Wright, the group has made a major push to publicize events – there were 3,500 flyers posted for the speak-out – by utilizing a broad coalition of campus groups.

USG participation

One of the key groups in the coalition thus far has been the USG. U-Councilor Teddy Nemeroff '01 and senator Lee Vartan '00 have served as a "labor force" in publicizing and setting up at both the speak-out and the discussion, said USG president David Ascher '99, who is also involved with the group.

Ascher said the USG hopes to "facilitate" rather than "prescribe" solutions. "The USG's focus is primarily on the University campus."

Ascher said USG involvement in the group is fueled by its ongoing interest in improving the "strained" race relations on campus.

Currently, the USG is more interested in helping organize discussions rather than endorsing positions on affirmative action or education policy that may arise from the discussions, he said.

Campus initiatives

Last week, the USG cosponsored Angela Oh, a member of President Clinton's Initiative on Race to speak on campus. Her talk was preceded by a discussion titled "One America: Can't We All Just Get Along?" on campus race relations.

Ascher said he anticipates that similar events will spur the University to take initiatives at the national level.

"I think President Clinton's initiative is a great thing. College students will be taking leadership roles in the future," he added.

In spite of all the talk of action, Ascher, Taylor and others have put the brakes on future events so as not to overshadow other ethnic events taking place in April.

Aside from April hosting and APAHM festivities, the TWC is organizing a panel discussion on ethnic studies April 22 in McCosh 28 at 4 p.m. The meeting, which includes five faculty members and administrators, will seek to resurface the issue of ethnic studies on campus.

Coincidentally, the last spurt of ethnic student activism occurred over the issue of ethnic studies nearly three years ago. Seventeen students conducted a 35-hour sit-in in President Shapiro's office in April 1995. The students demanded more courses in Asian-American and Latino studies.

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