In the third week of Black History Month and in the wake of the death of a civil rights leader, CSU officials say they continue to pursue diversity within enrollment and employment ranks.
In fact, federal officials point to CSU as an example of how to provide equal opportunities for underrepresented people while simultaneously adhering to laws concerning enrollment and employment.
Not only is the CSU faculty and staff diverse, but the university was "one of the few places that didn't have to go back and take corrective action," said Roselyn Cutler, associate director of the Office of Opportunity and Diversity (OEOD).
Dana Hiatt, director of the OEOD , explained that the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs, a division of the U.S. Department of Labor, performs annual audits of the university. The audits focus on utilization within different job categories, minority groups and gender differences among the CSU workforce. The results of the utilization analyses provide the university with statistics to make goals to correct any "under-utilization."
Under-utilization is defined as "having fewer minorities or women in a particular occupational classification than would reasonably be expected by their availability." Availability is contingent upon minorities or women who are qualified for positions that the university is recruiting for.
Based on the most recent audit conducted between September 2004 and July, CSU is meeting all requirements and no site visit, which is the first corrective step by the federal government, was necessary.
The diversity among the student body is not audited, but it is growing. Minority enrollment was 11.8 percent in the fall 2005, up from its lowest level of 11 percent in 2001, but still not as high as other in-state schools.
According to www.colorado.edu, 14.7 percent of students enrolled at CU-Boulder in the fall were classified as minorities. The UNC Web site, www.unco.edu states their university had a 14.4 percent minority enrollment. Minorities in this case are defined as Native American, Hispanic, Asian and black students.
Two Supreme Court cases involving the University of Michigan and its adjoining law school provide CSU and public universities nationwide with updated guidelines for diversifying the classroom.
"(The University of Michigan cases) allowed us to review policies for evaluating applicants for admission to ensure that we were compliant," Hiatt said.
The Supreme Court ruled in 2003 that race can be a factor in public, tax-supported universities' enrollment criteria, saying that a diverse classroom is beneficial for learning.
However, the ruling specified that minority students can not have extra points added to their index scores because that practice violates the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment. By giving minority students points based on something other than merit, the University of Michigan was also giving them an unconstitutional preference.
Chibuzo Ihekweazu (pronounced She-boo-zo Eh-hek-wa-zoo), a sophomore technical journalism major, does not feel the fact she is a Nigerian woman should affect her admission into a university or her employment for a job.
"I want to know that I am where I am because of my hard work and persistence, not my race," she said.
Mikaela Bogner, a senior human development and family studies major, echoed these statements, adding that women (who are actually the majority at CSU) are equally as competent as their male counterparts.
"Women are just as capable as men now," Bogner said. "I don't think they should let people in school if they're not qualified just because they're minorities."
Ty Smith, director of Native American Student Services, shares the same view.
"I think (race and heritage) should be taken into consideration, but I don't think it should be a deciding factor," he said. "Having students form diverse backgrounds only helps to strengthen a university."
Blane Harding, director for Advising, Recruitment and Retention and professor for the Center for Applied Studies in American Ethnicity, explained that the idea of leveling the playing field for all people from all backgrounds created the idea of affirmative action, which was first introduced to Americans in the late 1800s.
Affirmative action began when policies were introduced by Congress in the Southern states to provide opportunities for former slaves. These policies afforded black people the right to vote, but were soon lost to discriminatory Jim Crow laws instituted after the Civil War.
The modern concept of affirmative action originated much later in an executive order from President Roosevelt, which was followed by President Kennedy. In 1961, Kennedy ordered federal contractors to "take affirmative action" to guarantee equal opportunities for minorities in the workplace. The order was later amended in 1967 to include women as well.
Misconceptions about what programs actually do and who is affected have shaped popular opinions both in favor and against affirmative action.
Harding explained one common misunderstanding of affirmative action is that a quota system is used as an incentive to employ or enroll black people and that there is a specific mandated number that is supposed to be achieved.
This is not the case. Affirmative action does not use quotas and it supports black, Asian, Latino and Native American people as well as women, the elderly and religious groups.
"Quotas are illegal and that is not what affirmative action is about," Harding wrote in an e-mail interview. "Most individuals in society believe that qualified white candidates are passed over for less qualified minorities. If this is the case, then the companies applying affirmative action are not following the law."
Affirmative action does not serve as an order for the enrollment of minorities regardless of aptitude or qualifications either. Rather potential students are reviewed in the same way.
"In terms of students, the admissions department does not give minority students any extra points for admissions purposes. All students are treated equally and the university uses an index (rank in high school class, ACT/SAT and GPA) of 101 to determine if students are qualified to enter CSU," Harding wrote.
Despite the progress that affirmative action laws have made, Harding thinks they are still relevant today.
"Unless you can say that racism does not exist in society, then I believe in affirmative action," he wrote. "Some believe that it is for past discrimination (and this may be so), but I also believe it is for current discrimination."
"I'm not saying it's right," she said, "but if you're white, you have more opportunities in this world. That's just the way it is. But with hard work, anybody can get those same opportunities."
Marissa Hutton-Gavel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org