A Vote for Affirmative Action

By , Daniel Weiss, Carlos Watson, and Mary Wu. The authors are students at Stanford Law School in California.

THIS is a letter from some members of Generation X -- the most integrated generation in American history. We feel strongly about the debate over affirmative action: We find among our colleagues significant consensus that affirmative action is necessary, fair, and vital to public policy.

A coalition at Stanford Law School held a press conference to protest the racially divisive California ballot initiative proposing to gut the state's affirmative action programs. More than 200 of our classmates signed a petition, joining students at several law schools across the state.

Deemed selfish and unconcerned by the media, we of Generation ''X'' are rarely given voice in political discourse. Yet who better to speak up for diversity and plurality? Ours is the only generation that has lived it. We were the post-civil rights babies; we grew up in playgrounds and schoolyards unshadowed by signs that read ''Whites Only.'' We are the first wave of young people who moved in multicolored streams to our classrooms and now to our workplaces. This is the world in which we have grown up, and we cannot conceive of giving our children anything less.

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Yet far too frequently, we experience vestiges of an older America, where discrimination still prevails. Taxis in San Francisco still will not stop when they see the color of our skin. Security guards still trail us through shops. Employers still hire mainly those of us who look like the 95 percent of senior managers in this country who are white men.

According to the bipartisan 1995 Federal Glass Ceiling Report, women and minorities make up 57 percent of the work force, but hold fewer than 5 percent of management jobs. Even with more education than their male counterparts, women earn 80 cents on a man's dollar for comparable jobs. A 30-year-old black man can still expect to earn $10,000 less than a white man with the same college degree. Affirmative action has only just begun to address these imbalances.

Perhaps because our America is so deeply diverse, Generation X forgets to speak out when others threaten that diversity. Perhaps because our own lives have been so enriched by the plurality of faces and voices and experiences that has become the norm in our classrooms, we forget to communicate that richness. Our generation, though wary, is still active and optimistic. We work through Teach for America, City Year, VISTA, or hundreds of other Generation X efforts to improve the future.

As students at Stanford Law School, we have seen how affirmative action can work. Over the last 20 years, our student body has shifted from 20 percent to almost 50 percent women and our population of students of color has nearly doubled to over 30 percent. Six of the last eight presidents of the Stanford Law Review have been either women or minorities, including three blacks and one Asian-American. Not only is our Law Review one of the most respected in the nation, but Stanford, once considered a good regional law school, is now U.S. News and World Report's No. 2 ranked law school in the country.

Like any 30-year-old program, affirmative action should be be reassessed and reinvigorated. Yet, the so-called California Civil Rights Initiative threatens to return our state to a pre-civil rights America. When we balance what we may have lost to affirmative action against what we have gained, there simply is no doubt that it is our ticket to success in the next century.

Generation X must speak out and remind employers, parents, and elected officials that we do not want to be an imbalanced society. We must educate them about how we have grown and thrived as a nation because of affirmative action.

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