Dr. Arin Reeves discusses racism and affirmative action

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Dr. Arin Reeves discusses racism and affirmative action

Published: November 10, 2009.

As part of Lewis University’s Ethnic and Cultural Studies Colloquium, diversity consultant, Dr. Arin Reeves, JD, shared her thoughts Nov. 9 on post-racialism and affirmative action in light of Barack Obama’s election as the first African-American President of the United States.

Reeves is president and principal consultant of the Athens Group, a renowned diversity consulting firm. In addition to her work with the Athens Group, Reeves has led several comprehensive research projects on diversity and inclusion in the workplace, taught courses on law and society at Northwestern University and worked with over one hundred law firms. Reeves currently serves on the American Bar Association Center for Racial and Ethnic Diversity.

Reeves began her presentation differentiating between the legal and political definitions of affirmative action. She then stated, “Giving things to people who may not deserve them” has become the political definition, far different than the legal definition of affirmative action. As Reeves explained to the audience, affirmative action was put in place to ensure that all people were given opportunities.

In addition to the human rights’ aspect of affirmative action, Reeves pointed out the benefits of diversity. For example, she said people in business discovered that their products and ideas would sell much better in a global economy with a diverse staff. She added that universities discovered that when there is diversity in the classroom, all students learn better and gain new perspectives.

She believes that the ending of legislative discrimination did not end inequality in society. She described how some laws in the sections of the U.S. in the past legislated discrimination by posting “no blacks allowed” signs on doors and making literacy illegal for people of color. Reeves added that although the signs were eventually taken down for legal reasons, the doors remained closed for political reasons.

Reeves challenged the notion that discrimination was eliminated with the presidential election of Barack Obama. She proposed that it merely had a lower priority during the election. Using examples of previous presidents, Reeves asked, “Is mental illness no longer an issue because we had a president who suffered from depression? Are disabilities no longer seen as inferior because we had a president with a disability?” When the audience collectively responded with a “no” answer to both questions, Reeves questioned, “Why, then, do so many people think that race is no longer an issue because we have Obama as our president?”

Reeves acknowledged that there may be a desire for inclusion; however, there is still inadequate support for it. An example she provided was a woman lawyer who did not have a designated restroom, as there were only two: one for women secretaries and the other for male lawyers.

One of Reeve’s potential solutions to the problems that people are having in regards to race is to have a 10-minute conversation with someone who appears to be different. She believes that by asking questions, similarities will be revealed, and closer bonds will be formed. Through conversation and open minds, individuals will begin to be seen as part of the “human” race, concluded Reeves.

The Ethnic and Cultural Studies Program, an interdisciplinary program of the College of Arts and Sciences, currently housed in the sociology department, sponsored the two-day Colloquium. For additional information, please contact Gail Gehrig at (815) 836-5320.

A Catholic university sponsored by the De La Salle Christian Brothers, Lewis offers nearly 80 undergraduate majors and programs of study, accelerated degree completion options for working adults, various aviation programs and 22 graduate programs in nine fields. The 10th largest private, not-for-profit university in Illinois is being honored for the sixth consecutive year by The Princeton Review and U.S. News & World Report.

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