The legacy of Prop. 209: Black students continue to be underrepresented, poorly resourced

Goldia Kiteck/Senior Staff

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Since the passing of Proposition 209 — a ballot initiative that amended the California Constitution to prohibit discrimination on the basis of race, sex or ethnicity — the number of Black students admitted and enrolled to UC Berkeley has dropped despite an increase in applications, according to a UC Office of the President fact sheet.

According to the fact sheet, Black students made up 6.7 percent of all enrolled California resident freshmen in 1995, but this figure dropped to 3.7 percent in 1998  — just two years after Prop. 209 had taken effect. In contrast, 29.5 percent of California resident freshmen consisted of white students in 1995, and this figure only dropped to 28.2 percent in 1998.

Over the past two decades, the population of Black students on campus has decreased slowly to plateau at 3 percent — a figure that Shelby Mayes, membership development director for the Black Student Union, or BSU, said she finds “disappointing.”

“The campus population is less than 3 percent Black, while the U.S. population is 16 (percent),” Mayes said. “Campus is not at all accurate to what the real world looks like.”

According to campus spokesperson Janet Gilmore, the administration created the Division of Equity & Inclusion to address the needs of underrepresented minority populations on campus. Gilmore added that the enrollment of Black students has shown a “steady increase over the last 10 years.”

Gilmore listed the Fannie Lou Hamer Black Resource Center, which opened last spring, the Underground Scholars program, the Undocumented Student Program, the Multicultural Community Center and the Centers for Educational Justice & Community Engagement as examples of programs in which campus staff work to promote diversity in the student body.

“UC Berkeley is dedicated to representing all of California’s communities and dedicated staff and students work in partnership with schools, alumni groups, student organizations and others to attain that goal,” Gilmore said in an email.

Mayes recalled that BSU submitted a list of 10 demands to then-chancellor Nicholas Dirks in 2015, one of which was a task force dedicated to the recruitment and retention of Black students. Such a taskforce was never implemented, Mayes said.

Gilmore said in an email that the administration is working with the African American Initiative and the Chicanx Latinx Taskforce and is in the process of organizing a Native American Taskforce.

Mayes said that although BSU has maintained communications with campus officials, it has yet to reach its goals because of “pushback” from the administration. For Mayes, student retention is the main problem facing the Black student community on campus, and the administration must be more proactive in its efforts toward diversity and inclusion.

“Based on my experience, UC Berkeley does not care about their Black students, and I can say that as someone (who has) been very involved in the Black community politically and socially,” Mayes said. “There’s a lot of work that needs to be done on their end.”

Francesca Munsayac covers race and diversity. Contact her at [email protected].