On Feb. 13, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals listened to arguments against Proposition 209. The 16-year-old voter initiative bars racial, ethnic and gender preferences in public education, employment and contracting.
The attorneys for the plaintiffs argued affirmative action is needed to increase racial diversity at the University of California’s most prestigious campuses and professional schools. Additionally, data shows the UC’s efforts to enroll diverse student populations without considering race have failed, according to The Washington Post.
“What you see before you is a new form of separate and unequal going on right before our eyes,” the plaintiffs’ attorney George Washington said to the justices.
Ralph Kasarda, an attorney for the Pacific Legal Foundation representing the sponsors of Prop. 209, told the justices that the court was correct when it upheld the ban during the past two appeals.
“Proposition 209 guarantees everyone’s right to be treated fairly and not be discriminated against based on skin color or gender,” Kasarda said.
A circuit court ruling that overturned the affirmative action ban at the University of Michigan Law School motivated 55 UC applicants and an advocacy group to appeal Proposition 209 again.
The plaintiffs of Prop. 209 suggest that the ban has lead to a decline in underrepresented communities —African American, American Indian and Chicano/Latino — on public university campuses.
On Feb. 21, the Supreme Court announced that they would be reexamining the use of affirmative action as a factor of admissions at public universities.
According to UC data for registered undergraduates in 2010, 753 UC Davis students identified as African American, 202 identified as American Indian and 3,648 identified as Chicano/Latino.
Compared with UC Davis data for Fall 2011 registered undergraduates, last fall there was a slight increase in each minority group — 769 identified as African American, 215 identified as American Indian and 3,946 identified as Chicano/Latino, which made up 3 percent, 1 percent and 16 percent of the undergraduate populace, respectively.
However, the percentages of these minority groups are still low compared to the overall enrollment.
In a 2003 report, “Undergraduate Access to the University of California After the Elimination of Race Conscious Policies,” it states that the University of California system has seen substantial declines in the proportion of entering students who are African American, American Indian and Latino, since the adoption of Prop. 209.
In an e-mail interview, University of California Office of the President media specialist Shelly Meron said that in the years since the 2003 report there has been some progress in the enrollment of underrepresented minorities.
“The increases for some groups within UC as a whole are the result of an overall increase in the number of students admitted/enrolled at UC campuses,” she said. “If, for example, 1,000 more students are admitted/enrolled systemwide, some of those students will be underrepresented students, and so their number grows as the overall number of students grows. But their proportion/percentage of the total remains smaller than we would like it to be, and Proposition 209 has made increasing the proportions of underrepresented minority students more difficult.”
As a result, programs have been created at UC Davis and other UC campuses to help underrepresented communities.
At UC Davis, the Facilities and Campus Enhancement Initiative was passed in response to Prop. 209 in 1998. Then in 1999, the Student Recruitment and Retention Center (SRRC) was created.
“The students on this campus voted to have the center a few years after Prop. 209,” said Mayra Llamas, program consultant with the SRRC. “It took the students a couple years to realize what impact [Prop. 209] had made, and therefore to say we need to do something about this.”
The SRRC works to promote higher education in the region and teach students of underrepresented groups how to utilize resources on campus to succeed academically.
Even though the SRRC doesn’t contribute to admissions, they do aim to demystify the college application process for underrepresented communities. Additionally, the SRRC works to provide resources to students who think they can’t afford or can’t get into college, Llamas said.
With Prop. 209, UC Davis cannot take race or ethnicity into account for admissions. However, Associate Executive Vice Chancellor for Campus Community Relations Rahim Reed, said that UC Davis is committed to maintaining diversity on campus.
“The University of California Davis remains committed to try to recruit and retain a very diverse group of students reflective of the very diversity throughout the state of California,” he said. “…We have found that we can still be committed to admitting a very diverse group of students and still be in compliance with Prop. 209.”
With the increase in the use of social media and other outreach efforts, UC Davis aims to broaden the range of applicants.
“Because the state is very diverse, in reaching a broader group of people it is likely that we will have cultivated more diversity in those who apply for admission into UC Davis and the UC system as a whole,” Reed said.
MICHELLE MURPHY can be reached at email@example.com.