Latino students march in 2008 to advocate for increased enrollments of people of color. (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)
Arnold O. Beckman High School

UC regents unanimously reestablish affirmative action

Affirmative action was outlawed at public campuses, including the University of California institutions over two decades ago, according to the L.A. Times.

It was Proposition 209 in 1996 which banned preferential treatment solely based on race, ethnicity, or sex, and due to such regulations, UCs experienced a decline in diversity among its campuses, the Times reported. 

On June 15, UC regents unanimously supported Assembly Constitutional Amendment 5, which would repeal Proposition 209, and would consider race, ethnicity, and sex during the college admissions process, according to the L.A. Times.

UC Board Chairman John A. Pérez declared that the “colorblind” model — which UCs have been employing so far — denies the racism and injustice that those in certain racial groups are experiencing, the Times reported. 

“If we are going to be serious about creating a university that truly serves the public interest, we cannot be silent. We cannot be neutral,” Pérez said. “We must express ourselves in what we think [is] the best for our university and our state.”

The underrepresented groups were clear when observing the freshman profiles of UCLA and UC Berkeley —the top two public universities for undergraduate education in the United States, according to 2019 U.S. News & World Report Best Colleges rankings.

In 2019, UCLA admitted 6.3% Black freshmen students, an increase from 3.7% in 2012, according to the Times.

UCLA’s student ethnicity proportions in the 2018-2019 school year were 3% African American, less than 1% Native American, 28% Asian, 22% Hispanic, less than 1% Pacific Islander and 27% white. 

30% Asian and 26% white dominated, and UCLA experienced an 18.1% drop in underrepresented minority group representation when observing UC’s analysis of the impact of Proposition 209.

UC Berkeley had a similar trend, with Asian and white students representing more than 50% of the school population, and African Americans only representing 1%. UC Berkeley experienced the biggest drop in URM representation — or underrepresented minority in reference — of 25.6%.

The reaction to ACA 5 is mixed among American students. In Insider Ed’s survey for whether race should be considered in college admissions in 2019, 73% of respondents voted that race should not be considered. 

As for Asian Americans, according to the L.A. Times, there had been polls showing that the majority of Asian Americans support affirmative action, as this change will most likely help Pacific Islanders and other Southeast Asians to have a better chance of being admitted.

UB Santa Barbara student Jessica Gang supported the change, she wrote in a 2018 opinion piece for UCSB’s student publication The Bottom Line.

“In an ideal world, every university would be equally diverse, while still servicing the brightest minds possible,” she wrote in her 2018 opinion piece. “Unfortunately, the long history of socioeconomic inequality in the US means that this goal is currently not feasible. However, instituting a formalized system of affirmative action brings the UC system one step closer to making this dream a reality.”

However, there are others who do think that affirmative action will take Asian Americans’ seats away. According to UC Berkeley’s international students data, the university admitted 2,448 international students from China just last year — a number significantly larger than that for other countries.

With affirmative action, Asian international students’ seats, especially those from China, will experience a significant decline. There have been petitions arising — one called “Extremely concerned Californians” which has received more than 225,100 signatures as of June 16. Many people have signed the petition and highlighted the “unfair” aspects of admissions based on race. 

High schoolers have also spoken out about the issue.

“The goal of affirmative action is to promote diversity, which I believe is the right intention,” Maddy Pak, a rising senior at Beckman High School said. “However, affirmative action deemphasizes the ‘qualification’ aspect of the application, which worries me.”

“I strongly agree with this change of not being colorblind during the admissions process anymore,” said David Han, a rising junior at Beckman High School. “We no longer can hide from racism and injustice when it is clearly affecting countless students’ lives.”

If ACA 5 does get approved, UCs still need to thoroughly think about how to implement affirmative action into their decision processes.