"It is impossible not to discriminate when skin color is taken into consideration," Michigan State University student Kyle Bristow said Wednesday night.
The debate is playing out across the state. Now, it's playing to an overflow crowd of Michigan State University students.
"Affirmative action ensures equal access," student Eric Gregory said.
It's the debate over Proposal 2, a ballot initiative also known as the Michigan Civil Rights Intiative that would amend Michigan's constitution to ban racial preferences in state hiring, state contracts and state university admissions.
(That proposal joins four others on the November ballot. If approved, Proposal 1 would protect Department of Natural Resources funding. Proposal 3 would allow mourning dove huting. The so-called eminent domain power local governments have to acquire property would be limited under Proposal 4. And Proposal 5 would ensure annual funding increases for schools and universities.)
Gregory, who's running for a state house seat in suburban Detroit, said Proposal 2 is poorly written, allowing it to affect funding for cancers that affect only men or women.
Those in favor of the initiative say it will strictly affect hiring, contracting and university admissions. They say the proposal addresses a basic issue of fairness.
"If it was wrong to tell people they can't sit at a lunch counter because of their race," Bristow argued, "it is equally wrong to tell people they can't sit in a desk in a classroom because of their race."
With two weeks to go until the general election, groups on both sides are stepping up the campaign.
One United Michigan, a group opposing the initiative, has unveiled a new ad campaign. A pro-Proposal 2 group has put up billboards, including one outside Lansing along I-69.
They're all methods for mass distribution of each group's message.
"Preferential affirmative action patronizes American blacks, women and others by presuming they can't succeed in their own," Bristow said.
"Affirmative action is not the boogeyman," Gregory said. "it does not favor unqualified over qualified individuals."
Messages clearly being meted out among smaller groups of voters as well.