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Vinay Harpalani assertively asked the crowd of nearly 200 students assembled on College Green yesterday afternoon, "Have things gotten better?" "No!" they shouted in response. The Graduate School of Education student was referring to affirmative action and the fact that although 170 African-American students were admitted to Penn in 1970, only 152 were admitted in 1999. Harpalani was one of the chief organizers of yesterday's rally, which was part of "Call To Action 2000," a nationwide day of activism in support of affirmative action. This was Penn's second year participating in the rally, co-sponsored by the United Minorities Council, UMOJA, the Asian-Pacific Student Coalition, the Greenfield Intercultural Center and the Undergraduate Assembly. Discussing issues of racism and affirmative action, 11 students addressed the crowd, eliciting shouts and applause from the audience. The organizers also collected signatures for a petition in support of affirmative action at Penn. "Penn is a plantation of higher learning, not an institution," said UMOJA Public Relations Chairman Dan Cherry, a College senior. "Don't be fooled by the rhetoric." He added that affirmative action encounters opposition because it scared the people in power. "It's a fundamental challenge to the balance of power -- the status quo -- in the United States of America." Organizers handed out "Call to Action" T-shirts to the crowd during the rally. More than 100 people received the black shirts with affirmative-action logos emblazoned on them. Students at other schools -- including the University of Michigan and Florida A&M; University -- held rallies today as part of an ongoing initiative by the Coalition To Defend Affirmative Action By Any Means Necessary, a national organization responsible for organizing rallies on campuses across the country. The rally comes as institutions across the nation are re-evaluating their affirmative action programs. Michigan, the University of California at Berkeley and Florida A&M;, among many others, have reduced or eliminated affirmative action in their admissions process either voluntarily or as a result of law suits. "It's only a matter of time before this movement hits the Ivy Leagues," Harpalani said. This year marked the first time that the UA co-sponsored the event. UA Chairman and College senior Michael Silver said the group would continue to do so in the future. Kwasi Asare, a College junior and admissions co-chair of the UMC, said the rally's two main goals were "to counteract the movement of the Center for Individual Rights, an organization in support of repealing affirmative action, and to send a message to the University that affirmative action is something students here support." UMC Chairman Jerome Byam, a College junior, also spoke of affirmative action "leveling the playing field" for all people, not just African Americans, but also Hispanics, Asians, homosexuals and women." APSC Political Chair Jenny Yan, a Wharton freshman, emphasized the relevance of affirmative action to Asian Americans, particularly under-represented groups from Southeast Asia. But by far, the most heated speeches came from Cherry and College sophomore Jamarah Leverette. Leverette spoke of reparations for African Americans and recited a poem entitled "Break The Bottle," which symbolized oppression as a Calvin Klein fragrance. She ended with the a shout of "black power!" Other groups in attendance included members of Penn Students Against Sweatshops, the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Alliance and the South Asian progressive activist group Sangam. Organizers accredited the impressive turn-out to good weather and a general increase in activism at Penn since the sweatshop sit-in. "I think the turnout was phenomenal," said Kimberly Noble, a College freshman and political chair of UMOJA. "As long as the numbers keep going up, we hope more people will hear our message."

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