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Living in a post-Prop 107 Arizona, part II

Prior to the election, Prop 107′s detractors released a list of several programs whose existence would be under threat if the amendment were to pass. Well, it did pass. The question now is whether ASA’s hepatoscopic auguries will come to fruition.

After a cursory analysis of the programs listed, however, it quickly becomes clear that the grim predictions are by and large unfounded.

The Southwest Institute for Research on Women is a regional resource center within the Women’s Studies Department at the UA that is focused on issues that pertain to women, a mission that, as my colleague has pointed out, is totally acceptable under Prop 107; the Writing Skills Improvement program also has nothing to worry about, as it explicitly states on its website that all students are eligible; the Department of Multicultural Programs and Services includes offices like African American Student Affairs, Asian American Student Affairs, Chicano Student Affairs, and Native American Student Affairs, but, according to the Goldwater institute, African American Student Affairs is the only one that offers programs whose eligibility is based at least in part on race.

And while such programs, if they even exist, would have to change their eligibility requirements, the impact of prop 107 restrictions are overstated. After all, the primary function of these organizations is not to provide scholarships but to provide institutional support for minority students through cultural programs, educational events, and club support. And in this regard, they will be able to carry on as usual.

The Minority Health Disparities Research Opportunities program presents an interesting case. The eligibility for the undergraduate scholarship explicitly lists race as an eligibility factor, a criteria that will have to be eliminated post Prop 107. Ostensibly, the reasoning behind the scholarship is to provide support to students who belong to demographic groups traditionally underrepresented in the biomedical field.

Okay. Does that mean we should provide scholarships for male Art History students in order to make that department more “representative”?

This is an argument we’ve been hearing more and more frequently since Prop 107 passed, that programs meant to, for example, draw women into engineering programs will clearly suffer now that state-mandated racism is unconstitutional. However, engineering departments, along with any other academic or professional organization, should first and foremost be looking for individuals who are good at what they do, regardless of their background. Justifying preference programs for women based on the fact that they are underrepresented in engineering programs commodifies the very students the programs are trying to help, turning them into a series of data points, or, alternatively, trading cards over which departments fight so that they can pull ahead in an inane contest over which one of them is most “diverse.”

Take the case of Shawn Murray, a nursing student recently profiled in the Wildcat after she received a federally funded scholarship targeted towards minority students in the medical field.

In the nationwide nursing shortage, nurses from minority groups are especially hard to come by. The UA College of Nursing recently received a grant that will be used to support Hispanic and Native American students in the field.

The nearly $400,000 comes from the U.S. Department of Education’s Graduate Assistance in Areas of National Need grant. The grants provide scholarships for students pursuing the highest degrees possible in various fields.

“We have a severe shortage of Hispanic and Native American nurses,” said Terry Badger, professor and director of community and systems health science division in the College of Nursing. “What it allows us to do is provide support for students who are underrepresented among nurses who have Ph.Ds.”

Celia Besore, executive director and CEO of the National Association of Hispanic Nurses, said nurses need to represent the population they serve.

“Hispanic nurses are a very, very small minority,” Besore said. “The Hispanic population is growing. Hispanic nurses should be represented at least in the same proportion as the general population.”

Besore said part of this disparity is due to a lack of resources.

“Some of it is a lack of scholarships,” Besore said. “Perhaps a lack of encouragement by some people.”

Shawn Murray, a graduate student in the College of Nursing, received the fellowship. Murray said she “never really thought about” being a minority and didn’t consider the lack of Hispanic nurses until after she applied for the scholarship.

The logic of this argument is faulty as it as appalling. Should every demographic be represented in every profession based on the proportion of the general population that it comprises? The argument is absurd, and it elides the fact that we are first and foremost individuals, each with his or her own talents, interests, and proclivities.

What’s critical is ensuring that no one is denied an opportunity based on his or her race or gender–a guarantee towards which Prop 107 represents a seminal step.

Murray’s admission is in the last line of the excerpt is also telling. Prior to her acceptance of the scholarship, Shawn Murray saw herself, presumably, primarily as a student whose interests lied in nursing. Her ethnicity, while perhaps important in her personal life, was a separate matter that had no bearing on her ability to carry out her job in an adept, professional manner. However, by using her race as a factor in selection, the discussion shifts away from Murray’s intelligence, ambition, and years of hard work and towards what is merely an accident of birth.

Of course, identifying oneself with the ethnic group one belongs to is by no means a bad thing, but such decisions are fundamentally personal, and, contrary to Celia Besore’s assertion, the burden of representing that group ought not be forced.

Vishal Ganesan blogs at the Arizona Desert Lamp. He is a member of the Student Free Press Association.

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