Perhaps justice is blind, but since passing Proposition 209, California has seen more than its share of injustice.
On June 10, the California State Assembly passed ACA 5, a bill repealing Prop. 209, ending race-blind admissions to permit affirmative action. And if ACA 5 passes in the California State Senate by June 25, it will appear on voters’ ballots for approval in November.
In 1996, Prop. 209 enjoyed overwhelming support from the UC regents, California voters and The Daily Californian. Proponents framed race-neutral evaluations in government and higher education as a civil rights victory. In the quarter century since, however, Prop. 209 has done nothing to level the playing field.
Between 1997 and 1998, UC Berkeley’s proportion of Black students fell by half and has yet to recover. The proportion of Latinx students fell similarly, and though Latinx students now compose a majority of California’s graduating high school seniors, they constitute less than 16% of UC Berkeley undergraduates. Recruiting marginalized students has only mitigated universities’ gaping racial disparities, not erased them.
Some affirmative action opponents note the strong presence of Asian students on UC campuses and argue that race-conscious admissions would displace Asian students for less-qualified applicants. Asian American groups have brought prominent discrimination lawsuits against private universities, and many cite the UC system as a welcome exception from anti-Asian bias.
Because ACA 5 would permit considerations of ethnicity and race, however, the UC system could distinguish among different groups. Currently, Asian students are overrepresented partly because Asian Americans are typically more affluent and educated, reflecting historical immigration policy. But by rejecting the notion of an Asian American monolith, the UC system could improve representation of Southeast Asians and other less affluent, marginalized Asian communities.
Above all, critics of affirmative action disparage such considerations as racial quotas, with employers and universities seeking only to check boxes. Yet race-conscious admissions mainly reflect a simple truth: The effect of race on opportunity and adversity is profound. And our government and universities would be remiss to overlook that.
Public universities’ foremost duty is to educate the communities they serve, and distorted student populations belie that aim, preventing education from truly serving as the “great equalizer.” Race-blind admissions suggest that even though students’ teachers, counselors, employers, coaches, doctors, peers and friends will see their race, their college should not. In reality, race offers context for an applicant, adding nuance to each candidacy without reducing students to their skin color.
Today, ACA 5 has unanimous support from the UC regents, and voters deserve a chance to repeal a race-blind system that was tried and has failed. Like the regents, the Daily Cal no longer believes schools serve students when they ignore race: We feel it is high time for deeply race-related injustices to receive race-conscious solutions.