Racial equity is on the ballot for Californians this November.
Proposition 16 is an amendment that would repeal Proposition 209, a 1996 measure that eliminates affirmative action in California. Affirmative action is a set of institutional policies designed to increase representation of racial, gender and/or ethnic groups that have been historically excluded from public workplaces and universities.
Proposition 209 deterred many underrepresented UC applicants from applying to UC schools, according to the New York Times. Across the UC’s 10 campuses, Proposition 209 caused the enrollment of underrepresented groups to drop by at least 12 percent.
Proposition 209 continues to have severe consequences for the opportunities afforded to these groups. “Studies show underrepresented UC applicants had about 5% lower wages after the passage of Proposition 209 in comparison to applicants from groups that are not underrepresented.
A UCLA-led study found that California is the most segregated state in the U.S. for Latinos. Further, researchers discovered that 25 of the about 1,000 school districts in California make up more than 50% of the African American students in the state. Income inequality compounded with the lack of investment in these communities have created an achievement gap for African American and Latino students.
Despite the UC’s admitting its most diverse freshman class this year, enrollment rates of African American and American Indian students are stagnant. At UCLA, students who identify as African American make up an abysmal 3% of the student population while American Indians/Alaska Natives make up less than 1%. For context, California’s racial makeup is 6.5% African American or Black and 1.6% American Indian/Alaska Native .
While these statistics are shocking, they should come as little surprise given the UC’s insufficient outreach efforts.
In 1997, the institution set up academic preparation and outreach programs to double eligibility among underrepresented minority students. Despite these efforts, a UC Latino Eligibility Task Force report found that there was a lack of information disseminated to the Latino community regarding how to apply for and finance a UC education. This was likely due to a decrease in the UC’s outreach budget of $110 million in 2000-2001 compared to a little over $20 million in 2012-2013 allocated to these outreach programs.
In other words, the UC has abandoned communities of color.
And it continues to do so even during a pandemic.
A judge recently ruled UC admission committees can no longer use standardized testing scores as part of their review of applicants because of the lack of testing facilities that can accommodate test takers with disabilities.
The UC, however, is considering taking legal action to reverse this decision, something that directly contradicts its support of diversity in its endorsement of restoring affirmative action.
Racial, gender and disability inequality isn’t just limited to college admissions and hiring practices. It has distorted aspects of American society from housing to criminal justice. This is about a faulty framework that was meant to deliberately disadvantage a particular group of people. The system isn’t broken – it’s working perfectly.
As an SAT instructor for low-income students in Los Angeles, I have seen firsthand the challenges many of my students experience. A majority of them lack the resources to successfully navigate the admissions process. The system as it currently stands is not sensitive to these real inequities.
Education is supposed to be the great equalizer. It promises equality for all, yet so many are barred from access.
Affirmative action is necessary to bridge a centurieslong social and economic gap for groups and individuals not meant for the corrupt systems in place. It is essential to alleviate these disparities that target individuals with surgical precision. This is not asking for a handout; it is simply asking for a shot at an equal playing field.
Voting ‘yes’ on Proposition 16 in California would expand access for communities of color in the state and affirm that these communities matter and are worthy of opportunity. A vote for this bill is just the beginning of reimagining the underpinning of our country that was meant to work for an elite few and was not built to last.
If you are one of many people who find it hard to seek the motivation to vote this fall, let affirmative action be your reason. If you want to protect America’s promise of equal opportunity, have your voice heard at the ballot box. Our civic engagement is the beating heart of this democracy, and a more equitable future is in our hands.
Jon Andre Sabio Parrilla is a fourth-year Asian American studies student.