In a six to three decision by the Supreme Court, affirmative action in college admissions has been struck down. This decision will have large implications for higher education institutions who are struggling to ensure equal opportunity for applicants and diversity at their campuses. In California, Assembly Constitutional Amendment 7 aims to work around Proposition 209, which banned affirmative action in California. This amendment is limited, but it calls attention to the fact that problems unique to different racial groups cannot be addressed with uniform policies.
This amendment does, in a limited form, reintroduce affirmative action allowing race-based criteria to be considered in California, circumventing Proposition 209, when certain data and research based standards are met. Generally, California has failed stupendously in ensuring equity in higher education with and without the influence of affirmative action. There are worries, however, that this will affect the importance of merit related recognition for grades, extracurricular activities and employment. This attempt to compensate for racial disparities and institutional racism doesn’t inspire much confidence. Though, proponents of the amendment are correct in their assertion that California does not do enough to support equity overall.
Arguments that solutions to this problem need to be “race-neutral” show a complete misunderstanding of how inequity is allowed to flourish. Putting forward “race-neutral” policies only stands to further ignore the harm done to marginalized communities because, as a product of history and current societal norms, people of color face entirely different experiences in comparison to their white counterparts. “Race-neutral” is just another method of avoidance and a way of pretending that racism isn’t a driving force in American society. Enforcing “race-neutral” ideas really just means enforcing ignorance.
Race shouldn’t have to matter and it would be ideal that students could be considered only on the basis of what they can list on an application, but that necessitates a fundamentally equal playing field where race has never played a role. Unfortunately, years of race-based oppression and marginalization have made it impossible to ignore how institutional discrimination has been enforced. Race needs to be considered because it is a fact that not everyone is offered the same advantages and opportunities.
The UC system has invested about half a billion into increasing diversity through various programs. UCLA alone put two million dollars towards this goal annually. UC Riverside is in the midst of shifting towards a more holistic approach to admissions in order to account for a greater variety of socio-economic circumstances. It still hasn’t been enough to counteract the long-term and deeply ingrained realities which disadvantage historically marginalized groups. In an amicus brief, the UC system maintains that race-neutral criteria “has not been sufficient to counteract the declines in diversity after Proposition 209.”
It’s unclear whether or not the California amendment will withstand legal challenges or if it will have the desired effect. However, solutions that acknowledge different experiences rather than perpetuate ignorance are what universities and institutions need to be allowed to invest in. Going forward, Californians should hope that this amendment at least provokes discussion about the failures of “race-neutral” policies.