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Affirmative action and why it's important for diversity in schools and workplaces

Decades after banning affirmative action, racial disparities are prevalent in states where it was outlawed. 

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On Tuesday, June 16, the University of California (UC) Regents voted to restore affirmative action in hopes of diversifying its student population.

The school’s Board of Regents reached the unanimous decision to outlaw Proposition 209, also known as the California Civil Rights Initiative. The voter-approved law prohibits state governmental institutions from considering race, sex, or ethnicity when during employment and admissions processes.

Affirmative action was outlawed in California in 1996. After nearly 24 years of growing disparity of representation at state institutions, an amendment is close to making change.

The Assembly Constitutional Amendment 5 (ACA 5) hopes to remedy years that put people of color (POC) at a disadvantage. Advocators for the bill say in order to have fair admissions or workplace consideration, the applicants background must be taken into account.

While it may sound contradictory to some, the numbers tell a clear story.

Opponents to repealing Prop. 209 argue that reinstating affirmative action puts qualified job and college applicants at a disadvantage. 

The truth is, it does exactly the opposite.

 

California is one of eight states that have banned affirmative action.

While the action intended to instill a set of policies and laws to combat discrimination while promoting diversity in schools and workplaces, it has in fact resulted in a form of systemic racism that has harmed and limited the potential of POC in states that allow affirmative action.

In the UC system, Asians account for 33% of the undergrad and graduate student body, followed by whites at 21%, Latinos at 22%, and Blacks at 4%.

These figures do not reflect California’s population, where Latinos account for 39% – the largest ethnic group – Asians account for 15%, 37% are white, and 6% are African American, reports Market Watch.

From the time it was enacted in 1996, prop. 209 has dramatically changed the admissions policy at the University of California. At UC Berkeley and UCLA, students of color saw a 60% decrease in enrollment. Systemwide, underrepresented group enrollment fell by at least 12%.

“Proposition 209 has challenged the University’s ardent efforts to be equitable and inclusive as it seeks to attract the best and brightest students from all backgrounds,” said the UC Office of the President in a statement.

“It makes little sense to exclude any consideration of race in admissions when the aim of the University’s holistic process is to fully understand and evaluate each applicant through multiple dimensions,” said UC President Janet Napolitano. 

Latina legislator pushes ACA 5
 

ACA 5 argues Proposition 209 invalidated a series of laws that required state agencies to eliminate traditional patterns of segregation and exclusion in the workforce. Now, women and minorities are underrepresented in state service. 

State Senator Lena A. Gonzalez is one of the politicians who has been most vocal in promoting ACA 5. 

“Proposition 209 has impeded California’s continuing interest in supporting the equal participation of women in the workforce and in public works projects, in addressing the historical and present manifestations of gender bias, and in promulgating policies to enforce antidiscrimination in the workplace and on public projects,” reads the bill.

The most important misconception affirmative action will need to navigate is that advocators are trying to give an unfair advantage to unqualified candidates. Voters need to realize that is not the case.

ACA 5 will move to the state Senate floor before the legislative measure deadline on June 25 in order to appear on the ballot on November 3. 

 

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