‘It is never wrong to give people fair opportunity’: Californians to vote on ACA 5

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ACA 5, a proposition that would repeal California’s ban on affirmative action policies in public universities, will be on the Nov. 3 general election ballot.

The proposition, which passed in the California State Assembly on June 10 and in the California State Senate on June 24, was unanimously endorsed by the UC Board of Regents in mid-June. According to a statement from the UC Office of the President, its passage would “help address systemic and perpetual inequalities in public education.”

If passed by voters, ACA 5 would repeal Proposition 209, an amendment to the state constitution that prohibits consideration of race, sex and ethnicity in public institutions.

Since Prop. 209 passed in 1996, UC schools have tried to increase diversity through reviewing applications holistically, investing funds in diversity programs and partnering with K-12 schools in underserved communities. These actions have been insufficient, however, in reflecting California’s diversity in the UC student body, according to the statement.

“Systemic racism has permeated every part of Black and brown students’ lives for generations – from the neighborhoods in which they live, to the job opportunities their parents have, to the funding their schools receive,” said Buffy Wicks, District 15 assemblymember, in an email.

According to campus alumnus and student organizer Dominick Williams, the effort to repeal Prop. 209 was led by UC Berkeley students. As former chair of the UC Student Association Racial Justice Now campaign, which was founded by students who met at the UC Student Association’s Student Organizing Summit in August 2018, Williams helped start a coordinated effort to advocate for repealing Prop. 209.

“UC Berkeley students have lobbied legislators in Sacramento, phonebanked, and launched a digital campaign to support the effort,” Williams said in an email.

When they hosted the state Assembly’s Select Committee on Campus Climate in November 2019, Williams and fellow UC Berkeley students Maureen Simmons and Ahmad Mahmoud called on District 79 Assemblymember Shirley Weber to lead the effort to repeal Prop. 209, according to Williams.

Weber, along with Assemblymembers Mike Gipson and Miguel Santiago, first introduced ACA 5 in January 2019.

“We felt that Prop. 209 was a great barrier to being able to substantively address these issues that students of color raised before the chancellor,” Simmons said. “Every time we would raise issues specific to our experience, we were told that they could not address those issues because Prop. 209 barred any response.”

Rising campus junior Kyndall Dowell, who has chaired the Racial Justice Now campaign since fall 2019 and has led the on-campus effort to repeal Prop. 209, said in an email that repealing Prop. 209 has been an ongoing goal at UC Berkeley among Black students.

Dowell added that when she was a freshman, the 2018-19 ASUC Senate passed a resolution to repeal Prop. 209 after the University of Southern California’s Race and Equity Center released a report in which UC Berkeley was named the worst-performing institution for Black students.

“Misconceptions around affirmative action and who it helps over who it hurts overshadows the conversation of what it means and looks like to obtain radical liberation and equity,” Dowell said. “It is never wrong to give people fair opportunity.”

Contact Jessica Li at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @JessicaLi57.