ASUC passes bill in support of affirmative action

In response to growing student concerns regarding student diversity on campus, the ASUC unanimously passed a bill in support of SB 185, which authorizes the University of California and California State University to consider race, gender and ethnicity in undergraduate admission decisions and is currently awaiting Gov. Jerry Brown’s signature.

The UC Board of Regents has so far taken a neutral stance on SB 185 in fear of lawsuits because the passage of the bill would not necessarily mean the repeal of Proposition 209, the ballot proposal that prohibited public institutions from considering race in admissions decisions.

Though Proposition 209 bans awarding admissions decisions based on race and ethnicity alone, SB 185 would allow admissions officers to view ethnicity as part of the student’s background as a whole, according to Jesse Choper, a UC Berkeley law professor who specializes in race.

The bill would only authorize UC and CSU to consider race, gender, ethnicity and other relevant factors in admissions decisions, but will not mandate them to do so.

“Even if Jerry Brown does sign this into law, we will still need to push the regents to implement this bill,” said CalSERVE Senator Sydney Fang, who co-authored the bill, at the meeting. “The bill is a push for admissions to be even more sensitive to how race, gender, ethnicity as well as socioeconomic status, sexual orientation and disability affect our opportunities.”

Students said at the meeting that the passage of the bill would be a major step in reversing the effects of Proposition 209, which they said has served to reduce the number of minority students attending public universities in California.

“Prop 209 prohibited the use of affirmative action in admissions policies and meant that institutions like Cal are not able to legally implement practices of tutoring, mentoring, outreach and recruitment of women and minorities in California universities,” said CalSERVE Senator Brisa Diaz, who co-authored the bill.

Diaz said she hopes that the passing of SB 185 will spread awareness about affirmative action and clarify misconceptions.

“We want to clarify what it means to have affirmative action policies that broaden — not lower — the criteria to get admitted to an institution like ours,” she said. “Students that are admitted through affirmative action policies come from diverse backgrounds, have overcome a variety of obstacles, and deserve to be here. The notion that they take the seat of another student is not only elitist, but also is contradictory to Cal’s values of diversity and accessibility.”

U.C Berkeley community members who are active with minority groups on campus, such as the Black Student Union and Bridges— a coalition of of the Black, Raza, Asian and Pacific Islander and the Native American recruitment and retention centers, as well as Pilipino Academic Student Services, which was formed in 1996 as a direct response to Proposition 209 — spoke at the meeting in order to galvanize support for the bill.

“These centers and the communities they represent are doing the programming, outreaching and planning that used to be the job of the university,” Diaz said. “We are over-extended, many of us are first-generation college students with jobs, but we see the urgency in going out to our communities and getting more of us in here.”

The ASUC bill requests that ASUC President Vishalli Loomba and Executive Vice President Christopher Alabastro write a letter demanding that UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau take a stance on the issue and urging Brown to sign the bill into law.

“If the chancellor put his stamp on this bill I think it would make a world of difference,” said Kirk Coleman, who works at the UC Berkeley Black Recruitment Center.

According to Salih Muhammad, the president of the Black Student Union, the UC Berkeley campus has seen a dramatic decrease in the people of color since proposition 201 was passed.

“We should have commitment to inclusion and diversity and without that commitment we can’t consider ourselves a top tier school,” Muhammad said.

— Alex Kopel