Affirmative Action: When class is not enough

Photo credit: LA Times
Photo credit: LA Times

Over the last two weeks, I’ve written a series of posts about affirmative action initiated by the fight over SCA5, a bill that would have amended the California constitution to repeal Prop 209 for public education and restore narrow considerations of race to the college admissions process as part of holistic review of qualified applicants. SCA5 was withdrawn after backlash from Asian American voters, but the fight over the morality of race-based affirmative action rages on — particularly in the comments section of my posts, where I’ve been privileged to host several forums to encourage further discussion on this subject.

One significant point of contention is the use of race vs. class in affirmative action. Whereas some SCA5 opponents have lobbed radically non-factual charges against race-based affirmative action, others are more moderate in their counter arguments; they assert that whereas use of race-based information is discriminatory, class-based affirmative action is a reasonable alternative.

And, indeed, the fight over race vs. class-based affirmative action has persisted in liberal circles for years; most recently, support of class-based affirmative action was cited as part of Tanner Colby’s diatribe against race-based affirmative action in Slate.

The focus on class-based affirmative action is appealing to some liberals precisely because it rejects the unseemly conversations of race that can force a conversation on White privilege. Instead, it blames minority underachievement on classism, not racism, and leaves liberals comfortably in support of increased state spending on social services. Tacitly, they argue, if poor minorities can’t pull themselves up by their bootstraps after we address the impacts of their poverty, their failures must then be their fault. In short, arguments in support of class-based affirmative action is viewed as a panacea for social iniquity, with a concurrent, explicit denial of any further impact of institutional racism on underrepresented minority students.

Ironically, the UC system under Prop 209 provides the perfect counter-argument to these charges. California’s public education system, with its late-90’s rejection of race-based admissions, provide the ideal demonstration of the inadequacies of purportedly “colour-blind” admissions policies that engage in class-based affirmative action in the absence of racial consideration.

Or, as Scot Nakagawa points out, post-Prop 209 college admissions in the UC system demonstrate that “in a racially inequitable society, color blind solutions end up reflecting that inequitable context and often even contributes to its perpetuation.”

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Top 5 things #SCA5 are totally not like…

Anti-SCA5 protesters are adorbs.
Anti-SCA5 protesters are adorbs.

SCA5 — Senate Constitutional Amendment 5 that was recently tabled and then withdrawn in California — would’ve done one thing: repealed Prop 209 and restored the capacity for UC schools to employ race-based affirmative action among other considerations in making college admissions decisions.

Why is this necessary? Because since Prop 209 ended race-based affirmative action in California, admission rates for underrepresented minorities — Black, Chicano, Southeast Asian American, Pacific Islander, and Native American students — plummeted by as much as 10% across the entire UC system, with some campuses experiencing an immediate admissions rate drop by as much as 30%; by contrast, Prop 209 has had a minute impact on Asian American admission rates, increasing it by a mere 0.4% immediately upon its passage.

Yet, a vocal minority of Asian Americans — predominantly Chinese Americans situated in Southern California — managed to get SCA5 tabled through an online petition and thousands of phone calls placed to Asian American elected officials. And, while the political clout it takes to kill a bill and send California Dems scampering back to their war rooms is impressive, the anti-SCA5 rhetoric has been based on some pretty shocking untruths and misinformation, much of it originating out of conservative PACs and ethnic news.

The most misinformed, ahistorical, and flat-out bizarre rhetoric arrives in the form of anti-SCA5 opponents who in the last two weeks compared the bill to bunch of stuff SCA5 are not like. You think you are ready, but you have no idea.

After the jump, here are the top 5 things SCA5 are not like.

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SCA5 withdrawn, task force called for to address affirmative action | #edu4all

California State Senator, Leland Yee, who has now clarified his position in support of repealing Prop 209. (Photo credit: IB Times)
California State Senator, Leland Yee, who has now clarified his position in support of repealing Prop 209. (Photo credit: IB Times)

Following Speaker Perez’s halting of SCA5 — a bill that would repeal Prop 209 for institutions of public education in California — from advancement yesterday, SCA5 author State Senator Ed Hernandez has withdrawn the bill, saying that he will examine possible amendments.

Although considering SCA5 did nothing but strike two words — “public education” — from the state constitution, I’m not entirely sure what those amendments might be.

More substantively, Hernandez has vowed to start a state-wide task force to address the issue of affirmative action in higher education, and to combat the profound untruths and misinformation that has characterized the debate over SCA5 in the last few weeks.

Hernandez said he wants to get more positive information out to the public and to dispel what he calls misinformation about SCA 5. To do that, he said he will create a commission of elected officials; experts in constitutional law; community leaders from different ethnic groups; students; parents; and representatives from the UCs, CSUs and community colleges.

The point, he said, is to address concerns opponents have, which might mean amending or even rewriting the proposal.

This turn of events is a positive one, and should provide California voters the tools they need to have the complex, nuanced, and fact-based conversation that the issue of affirmative action deserves. Further, it will permit a conversation that reflects all positions on the topic — particularly, the diverse positions that can be found even within the Asian American community alone.

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The effect of Prop 209 on UC admissions and campus diversity | #edu4all #NoLiesNoHate #SCA5


If you’ve been following my blog over the past week, you’ve seen my writing on SCA5, Senate Constitutional Amendment 5 being advanced in California to attempt to repeal Proposition 209, which passed in the mid 90’s and took effect in 1998 on the UC admissions process.

There continues to be a lot of numbers flying around, and a lot of is being interpreted really bizarrely. The most significant problem with the numbers being quoted back and forth is that most are citing on-campus student demographics as either whole numbers or as fractions of state population. These numbers either completely ignore changes in overall population size (and thus applicant pool size), or are using Census data as proxies for that number.

Yet, the most appropriate numbers to use isn’t enrollment data, or state-wide population numbers: it is admission and application data from the UC school system. Enrollment data is complicated by the additional factor of student choice — which can be influenced by things like scholarship availablity, geographic locale, and major offerings — so it’s largely irrelevant to the debate of affirmative action in college admissions. State-wide population numbers fail to fully address the fact that in regards to college admissions, changes in population size are only relevant insofar as they produce an increase in applicant number.

So, again, to set the record straight, here is the impact of Proposition 209 on UC admissions and campus diversity. All numbers were crunched from this report, which was released by the UC office of the president (UCOP).

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Top 5 anti-Affirmative Action Myths About SCA5 | #NoLiesNoHate

Photo credit: USA Today
Photo credit: USA Today

Nearly twenty years ago, California voters passed Proposition 209, a ballot measure that effectively outlawed affirmative action in state-run institutions. Among other effects of Prop 209 was the loss of affirmative action policies — the ability for college admissions officers from being able to consider race among other application criteria — in the state-wide UC college system.

Prop 209 has had a devastating effect on UC schools: Black, Latino, Native American, Southeast Asian American and Pacific Islander admission rates have dropped precipitously relative to the pace of their population growth over the last twenty years, resulting in a public, taxpayer-funded university system that has effectively excluded many of the state’s underrepresented minority community — roughly 45% of the state’s total population — from access to quality secondary education.

Currently, the California House and Senate are considering Senate Constitutional Amendment 5 (SCA5), a bill that would create an exemption for public education from Prop 209, re-empowering the UC system to once again employ reasonable affirmative action policies in their admissions process. Should SCA5 pass the California Senate later this year, it will be put on the November ballot for public consideration. Passage of SCA5 is a necessary first step to restore access and equality for California’s underrepresented minorities to a college education.

Unfortunately, although 61% of Asian American voters in California voted against Proposition 209 in 1996 to protect affirmative action, recent efforts by conservative Asian Americans — predominantly Chinese American non-profits and news outlets — have resulted in a widespread campaign of misinformation and outright fear over SCA5 in many Asian American voters.

To set the record straight, here are the top 5 myths — and facts — about SCA5, and why you should support it.

Continue reading “Top 5 anti-Affirmative Action Myths About SCA5 | #NoLiesNoHate”