There are many historic ballot measures in the Nov. 3 election from Proposition 17, which reinstates the right to vote for formerly incarcerated folks who finished their prison term, to Prop. 21, which allows local governments to establish rent control on residential properties more than 15 years old.
The most contentious has been Prop. 16, which aims to reverse Prop. 209 (1996) and reinstate Affirmative Action.
Affirmative Action is legal in 42 states and aims to achieve racial equity in the public education and contracting sectors.
While some of its opponents may claim that Affirmative Action does nothing more than harm minorities and play into racial stereotypes, nothing is further from the truth.
Historically, not only have minorities been systematically excluded from higher education, they also disproportionately come from lower economic backgrounds, have access to lower performing schools and cannot afford such luxuries as SAT prep or fancy tutors. While some may argue that the fix to this is investing in our public schools, which I agree with (Look into Prop. 15 which aims to increase funding for K-12 schools), this is a very long-term solution and does nothing to address the current high school students who may be capable of performing well at a high-ranking institutions, but don’t have access to the sports, extracurricular activities and resources that other students may have to jazz up their resumes.
In addition to this, I believe that race is an immutable characteristic that can enrich the higher education experience for those that have not come from a diverse background.
How can a university offer the best quality education without platforming the views of BIPOC (black, indigenous and people of color), people of low socioeconomic status and other disenfranchised communities? How are we supposed to ensure that universities do not become echo chambers and ensure that they promote diversity of thought, which typically comes from a diversity of experience?
The United States is not a meritocracy. We have been disillusioned by the illusive American Dream and the idea that we can pull ourselves up by our bootstraps and get to work. If this were true, we wouldn’t see the horrific income inequality that is plaguing our nation today.
Detractors see Affirmative Action as giving people of color an education on a silver platter but they ignore the massive amount of debt, hard work and mental strain it takes to earn a college degree. Affirmative Action doesn’t hand anyone anything, it just gives a chance to those who have historically pushed out and forgotten.
If the goal is to maintain fairness, then the focus should be on legacy admissions and doner students. In America’s top schools, legacy students are a growing percentage of admits. Nearly 18% of Stanford’s class of 2023 are students or relatives to donors. (See www.stanforddaily.com/2020/06/26/nearly-18-of-class-of-2023-are-legacy-students-or-relatives-of-donors-report-reveals.)
Simply because their parents are graduates and benefactors to the university, they receive preferential treatment. Not to mention the Lori Laughlin scandal where she paid for her daughter to get into USC. These practices are not uncommon and can even be seen throughout the University of California where it was found that hundreds of students have been admitted unfairly and siphoned in as “athletes” who then never set foot on the field. (See www.insidehighered.com/admissions/article/2020/09/28/university-california-admissions-scandal-worsens.)
If the goal is “fairness,” this should outrage anyone much more than Affirmative Action.
Even when Affirmative Action is implemented, it then puts each applicant under holistic review that weighs their test scores, GPA, essays, extracurricular activities and race to determine admission. Students of color who do gain acceptance still are held to high performance standards of the university. One cannot underperform and gain admission to UC Berkeley — well, you could if you are one of the many students who had their admission denied but then purchased by wealthy family members.
As we continue to remain a country divided and experience the biggest civil rights movements since the 1960s, now is not the time to be color blind.
Race is undoubtedly linked to wealth inequality in this country. People of color have the ability to culturally enrich their campuses and expose students to our beautiful and diverse country.
If anything, Affirmative Action can be the answer to correcting our historical wrongs and addressing our racial transgressions. We have a lot of work to do before our nation can move past the wrongdoings of our past; or even our present. But the time for change is now and I am confident that, if we work together, we can move towards racial equity and eventually, liberation.
I’m voting “yes” on Prop. 16.
The writer is co-chair of co-chair of UCSB Know Your Props.