Hawaii Language Culture and Affirmative Action Essay

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Grassroots movements and peaceful protests have helped promote equality in Hawaiian higher education. In 1991, a fierce debate waged throughout the nation over the legitimacy of affirmative action programs. That debate helped to showcase the need to take action—affirmative action—to conscientiously and constructively solve the problem of institutionalized racism.

In a KFVE news show entitled “Island Issues,” two professors from the University of Hawaii talk about the need for affirmative action and how it can be put into practice at the senior levels of education. Professors Marion Kelly and Mimi Sharma focus on faculty diversity as opposed to student body diversity. The professors debate the host of “Island News” about some of the misconceptions about affirmative action. Those misconceptions include the “quality” question, a position that takes the short-range vision. The quality question is related to the perception that promoting minorities would mean promoting people who are less qualified for their positions than members of the established dominant group (whether whites or Asians). In this debate, the professors try to show why the emphasis on quality is short sighted and misses the point that the only way to ensure improved qualifications for all people would be to develop talent systematically. Essentially, both students and aspiring professors need institutional supports to be able to afford and take part in professional development.

Another misconception about affirmative action raised in the “Island News” debate is about policies that seem to unfairly favor some minority groups over others, using the example of Asian Americans protesting the affirmative action policies and programs in the University of California system. Those UC policies were designed to help Latino and Black students. The same protests could have occurred in Hawaii. In the “Island News” program, Kelly and Sharma state that promoting the advancement of disadvantaged groups does not need to clash with the promotion of other minorities. Essentially, policies that level the playing field create a better field for all players.

Finally, a commonly cited opposition to affirmative action is related to the Equal Protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. This is the “reverse discrimination” argument, and also ties into the unfair treatment argument. The reason for affirmative action is not to discriminate; quite the opposite, affirmative action is activism on behalf of disadvantaged groups.

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Helping a disadvantaged group is not favoritism and is not unfair when some groups are systematically disadvantaged versus other groups. Kelly and Sharma talk about the ways women and minorities have been systematically discriminated against in ways that are not even embedded in official policies, but in unconscious practices. For example, a student who is native Hawaiian can be easily discouraged from pursuing a position in the school’s faculty when there are no role models and no meaningful social or financial supports in place for that student.

Kelly and Sharma also argue that official policies of affirmative action are required to prevent the perpetuation of the status quo. At the time, only 1.4% of University of Hawaii faculty was native Hawaiian; yet a tenth of the student body was native Hawaiian. The professors highlight the importance of having a faculty that genuinely represents the composition of the student body, basing their argument on the need to construct and maintain harmonious educational communities and promote egalitarian values. Also, the university needs to provide financial, educational, and other structural supports that would help disadvantaged students when they receive their undergraduate degree. Many students are forced to enter the workforce in service positions, potentially squandering their education because they cannot afford to go straight to graduate school. More needs to be done to encourage all earnest, ambitious students to pursue their graduate studies. This would help increase the numbers of minority on faculty at the University of Hawaii.

A similar effort was won in 1995, when students at the University of Hawaii protested proposed budget cuts that would impact Hawaiian language classes. The whopping 40% cuts would have led to fourteen Hawaiian language classes being eliminated from the following fall’s schedule. Hundreds of students and community members, and some professors showed up to the campus to protest, and some even stormed past the security guards (“Hawaiian Language Demonstration at the University of Hawaii,” 1995). While the KGMG news anchors exaggeratedly refer to the most aggressive protesters as “violent,” in fact no one was actually hurt. Rather, the unarmed students simply pushed….....

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“Affirmative Action at the University of Hawaii,” (1991). KFVE. Available: http://www.sinclair.hawaii.edu/auth/auth.php?fn=1207_demonstration.mov

“Hawaiian Language Demonstration at the University of Hawaii,” (1995). KGMG. Available: http://www.sinclair.hawaii.edu/auth/auth.php?fn=1207_demonstration.mov

McGregor, D.P. & MacKenzie, M.K. (2014). Mo’olelo Ea no Na Hawaii. https://www.doi.gov/sites/doi.opengov.ibmcloud.com/files/uploads/McGregor-and-MacKenzie History_of_Native_Hawaiian_Governance.pdf

Rohrer, J. (2006). Got race? The Production of Haole and the Distortion of Indigeneity in the Rice Decision. The Contemporary Pacific 18(1): 1-31.

“University of Hawaii at Manoa Faculty Ethnic Diversity Breakdown,” (n.d.). https://www.collegefactual.com/colleges/university-of-hawaii-at-manoa/student-life/diversity/chart-faculty-ethnic-diversity.html


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