Sheff Lecture–Amanda Gurren

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Amanda Gurren

Sheff Lecture

Professor Paris

April 18, 2013

Today,  I was fortunate enough to attend a lecture hosted by guest speaker Michael Paris, a professor at SUNY Staten Island, during common hour at the Rittenberg Lounge.  I came into the lecture feeling fairly on top of my game (as you will) considering I am rather familiar with the Sheff v. O’Neill case and the district’s ongoing and relentless pursuit for school desegregation.

After Professor Paris went into a brief history of the Sheff v. O’Neill case, he discussed the politics implemented by Sheff’s lawyers and offered some insight into the lawyers’ approaches. This intrigued me the most, because I never really explored the tactics employed by the lawyer and whether or not their strategies were that effective. That said Professor Paris provided his audience with a brief list of criticisms. To begin, he question if the lawyers were too focused on the consequences of the wrong, and not the wrong itself.  He explained that the lawyers might have put far too much emphasis on the “damaged children” (the consequences of the wrong) rather than the wrong itself (in this case, racial concentration and isolated poverty). Furthermore, he argued that the lawyers’ argument strayed away from the positive of racial isolation and identity. As he explained, Professor Bell was quite infuriated by this common misperception that Blacks are a damaged race. He then began asking his audience a series of questions, such as “How can you say it’s race,” or “What conception of racial justice allows it to be said that it is race and not poverty?” I looked around the room and the audience seemed to be struggling as much as I was to answer the question. How could one make a legitimate argument that racial segregation has caused this drastic inequality between the Hartford district public schools and the public schools of its surrounding suburban counterparts? In reality, it is a combination of race and poverty. However, I learned in Professor Dougherty’s course last semester that it was far too complicated to keep the economic component in the lawsuit and was subsequently taken out. Should the lawyers maybe have tried harder to include that in their case—if it had stayed in the original complaint, would we see more positive results with the school desegregation effort? I’ll leave you, the reader, with that food for thought. Moving on, the last criticism Professor Paris provided was that there were no real confrontation or protests. Professor Paris seemed to believe that the most effective way to get results is with protests and confrontation—pressure on those in charge, as you will. Needless to say, this criticism was met with some disagreements by the members in the audience. Members of the audience seemed to argue that confrontation and protests are not necessarily the most effective means of getting one’s point across. Professor Paris seemed to have backed down a little on this stance upon some debate with a member of the audience.