Students gathered yesterday to debate and discuss the “model minority” myth at a workshop hosted by Students for a Progressive Asian American Movement, and asked if Asian Americans could benefit from affirmative action legislation.

The Revisiting Affirmative Action workshop, held in the MultiCultural Center lounge, focused on discrimination and diversity issues in California and the UC system. About 30 students, faculty and community members attended the discussion, which comes a few days before the United States Student Association’s National Take Affirmative Action Day on Thursday.

“We wanted to introduce people to the concepts involved in affirmative action,” SPAAM co-chair Shruti Sinha said. “It’s complicated, and has valid concerns on both sides.”

Supporters of affirmative action say such legislation is necessary to ensure diversity in the workplace and in universities. However, opponents contend the policies unfairly discriminate based on race and gender, and prevent the most qualified candidates from receiving jobs or entrance to college.

SPAAM members discussed the current state of diversity in higher education, focusing specifically on Asian American students within the UC system. Besides a variety of presentations, club members provided a few interactive activities, such as one illustrating relative privilege between social groups.

Organizers also presented a variety of affirmative action statistics including several concerning diversity at other UC campuses. UCLA’s current freshman class, for instance, has approximately 4,000 students, of which only 96 are black.

Sinha, a fourth-year political science and global studies major, opened her presentation by stating SPAAM’s main purpose, which is to discuss the myth of Asian Americans as a model minority. Proponents of the myth claim Asian culture, which they define as hardworking and education-oriented, makes Asian Americans more financially successful and more accepted by society.

Other groups, including blacks, are sometimes negatively compared to “model minorities.”

“We wanted to introduce an Asian American angle because of the model minority myth,” Sinha said. “Do Asians need affirmative action? Where do we stand? What does it mean? I personally don’t believe in the model minority myth.”

Amanda Hernandez, Associated Students Student Commission on Racial Equality co-chair, said students and community members should take action to eliminate societal myths about affirmative action.

“Affirmative action confronts things people avoid,” Hernandez, a second-year women’s studies major, said. “There are myths, and these myths need to be responded to. Action is necessary and it makes sense to the people who see the bigger picture.”

During the workshop, organizers asked participants to stand in a line. Group leaders assigned each person a social circumstance. Individuals given such circumstances as being upper-middle class were asked to step forward. However, if they were given an attribute such as being a minority or an immigrant, they were asked to step backward.

At the end of the activity, people assigned as wealthy white males were standing several steps forward, while those assigned as poor female minorities stood the furthest back. The exercise enabled all participants to see how environment, cultural background, gender and social status affect how society views individuals.

A portion of the discussion was devoted to examining Proposition 209, which was passed in 1996. The proposition prohibits discrimination and preferential treatment based on race or gender by state or other public entities, including the UC system.

The proposition’s passage made the state reprioritize funding for outreach to underprivileged areas where minorities may or may not reside.

Hernandez said talking about affirmative action fosters a better understanding of the issue.

“Although [affirmative action is] a touchy subject at times, it is necessary for it to be confronted in order to enable people to have a better understanding,” she said.