On June 15, the UC Board of Regents unanimously endorsed Assembly Constitutional Amendment, or ACA, 5 and the repeal of Proposition 209, which would reverse the prohibition of affirmative action in public education, employment and contracting.
In 2011, UC Berkeley students staged a massive protest in response to a diversity bake sale that priced pastries differently based on race and gender. In response, hundreds of students, mostly Black, Indigenous and other students of color, poured into Sproul Plaza with signs that read “Don’t UC us,” lay down on their backs in front of Sproul Hall and were silent for more than an hour in the sweltering heat.
I was one of those students. This demonstration occurred after protests, mostly led by Black students, had erupted throughout campuses because of racist events (including finding nooses on campuses) across the UC system. The questions students asked then are the same questions prevalent now: How do we improve campus climate and address the institutional racism present within our educational system?
These past few weeks, the United States has seen a string of uprisings and protests pushing back against the systemic racism that has resulted in the state-sanctioned killing of Black people throughout our country’s history. The revolutionary Black scholar Angela Davis refers to this as an “extraordinary moment,” one that “holds possibilities for change we have never before experienced in this country.”
Without COVID-19, we may have seen similarly large uprisings spring up not only in cities but also on our campuses across the UC system, as students would once again take up the mantle to build a truly inclusive university system.
Every June 19, the United States recognizes Juneteenth, a celebration of the ending of slavery in the nation. In order to commemorate this holiday, the Goldman School of Public Policy decided to suspend all activities to “allow our community to rest, reflect, and educate themselves and others on the history of racism in America.” All non-Black staff, students and faculty were asked to use this time to educate ourselves on systemic racism and to take action.
Recently, Black students and other students of color at the Goldman School of Public Policy have shared concerns about the lack of diversity and about the tools and perspectives being taught in class. This issue is nothing new — it happens in all campuses across this state and this country.
Most of the authors of readings in our syllabi are white (and often male). The tools and theories used in classes have been used to dehumanize and inflict harm on Black communities and other communities of color. Black students and other students of color have to live traumatic experiences while simultaneously educating their peers and professors on those experiences. Black students and other students of color have historically lacked sufficient resources to survive, much less thrive, once they have entered our country’s universities — we shouldn’t rely on them to turn everyday injustices into teachable moments as well.
There is power in allowing Black faculty, staff and students the time and space to heal from the violence experienced during this time. But given this extraordinary moment in history, is it enough for non-Black students, faculty and staff to only passively reflect on the history of anti-Black racism?
Given that most of the faculty, students and staff in our universities are white (and male), we have much more work to do to ensure that these diversity concerns can be resolved in the near future. And that means supporting ACA 5 and repealing affirmative action.
I recognize that the Goldman School of Public Policy and the UC system have taken a positive step forward in correcting legacies of institutional anti-Black racism. But in this moment in time, is this enough, coming from one of the best universities in the world? Society is asking us to reimagine how we meet the needs of those most vulnerable and most discriminated against in our population.
Is it a coincidence that we have massive uprisings representing a culminating moment of mass desperation in the United States? If we truly want to move forward, it will take more than moments of silence and reflection. It will take truly radical individual and collective action. As a society, we have taken the initial steps in reckoning with racism. Now the question is, can we do more?
Educate yourself, have productive conversations and become politically active if you desire true change in our country. And one of our first steps in balancing the scales of racial injustice in education should be to vote for ACA 5.
Alexis Castro is a student in the Goldman School of Public Policy’s Master of Public Affairs program and graduated from UC Berkeley in 2014.