When Proposition 209 passed in 1996 under the dubious title of “civil rights” legislation, it effectively removed the tools we need to fight systemic racism and discrimination in hiring and admissions.
As a result, we saw the numbers of Chicanx/Latinx and Black students plummet at University of California campuses. And throughout the systems of higher education, we lost our ability to do race-conscious and gender-conscious programming to support women and people of color as both students and faculty. This is why CFA supports this year’s Proposition 16, which would repeal Proposition 209 and allow considerations of gender, race, and sexual orientation in college student admissions and faculty hiring.
“Prop 16 may confuse some voters who think it is better to be ‘color blind,’ but what we hope they come to understand is that if we are ever going to dismantle structural and systemic racism and sexism, we have to be race and gender conscious,” said Sharon Elise, CFA Associate Vice President of Racial and Social Justice, South. “We need to look at those areas of public life, or in education, those areas of the academy and faculty that remain exclusively white and male.
“After hundreds of years of white male privilege, we need to intentionally choose to recruit and retain those who have been locked out, particularly people of color. We all pay for public resources, but we do not equally benefit from them, either as users of services as students, or as providers as faculty,” added Elise, a professor in CSU San Marcos’ sociology department.
As recent events have shown, the racial divisions and inequities in our society are at a crisis point, said Darel Tai Engen, CFA Associate Vice President, South.
“I believe that education has an essential role to play in ameliorating this situation, since ignorance is among the major factors that have both caused these problems and continue to block their solutions,” Engen said. “Therefore, we need more faculty who can speak to these issues and help to educate our students from a perspective not only of academic training and expertise, but also of personal experience. It is very frustrating not to be able to consider race as at least one among many factors in hiring faculty.”
In CFA President Charles Toombs’ experience at San Diego State, Proposition 209 has made it difficult to address racial inequity directly, to advocate for specific student racial groups, and to address racial hiring inequities.
“At SDSU, when various committees and groups wanted to do the right thing in addressing the decades-long lack of hiring of African American and Native/Indigenous faculty, SDSU had to come up with creative ways, such as meticulously writing position descriptions to target less-represented groups,” Toombs said. “If Prop 16 is passed, campuses can be more specific and intentional in recruitment efforts, as well as in retention of faculty of color who are hired.”
Toombs also remembers limitations at San Diego State on reaching out to students of color for special events. Administrators cited Proposition 209 when refusing – at first – to provide an email list of Black students on campus so they could be invited to the Department of Africana Studies’ all-university Black Graduation Program.
“Eventually, we would get the list – after endless additional meetings, etc. – but it was always uncertain. The back and forth often created a number of headaches for planning and putting on our wonderful ceremony celebrating Black student success for undergraduates and graduate students, the defining moment of their university experience and hard work,” Toombs said.
Though there is some opposition to Proposition 16 among the Asian and Pacific Islander community, Engen argues against the “model minority” myth that perpetuates inequity for the API community.
“Like all other students, API students would benefit greatly from being part of a student body whose racial diversity is truly reflective of the composition of our society as a whole. They would learn to understand and be comfortable with people of other groups, which will better prepare them to be effective members of our workforce and to be broadminded, team players in our democratic political system,” said Engen, professor of history at CSU San Marcos and member of CFA’s API Caucus.
Any law that does not increase access to college for people of color – and actually decreases access – is bad for California and the nation.
“We already consider so many other factors besides just test scores for student admissions, including other family members attending college and athletic skills, for example, so why not race, which is just as important if not more so?” Engen said. “It merely perpetuates the inequities that continue to plague our society today, with people of color having less opportunity for good paying jobs and positions of leadership.”