America’s racial and ethnic diversity pales in comparison to California’s. However, at the University of California, neither the makeup of the student population or the faculty reflects California’s diversity.
Why? In large part, because of Prop 209, an initiative passed by the California voters 24 years ago. Prop 209 ended affirmative action by the state of California. Since then hiring, public contracting, and public university admissions had to be “color blind.” As a result, the student population at UC became drastically less diverse, and still looks very different from California’s demographics.
Nowadays, we generally recognize “color blindness” as a way of talking around systemic racism. Few parts of society, from police, to private employers, to landlords, to mortgage lenders, to high school guidance counselors are color blind. While it can feel good to say that the state of California doesn’t discriminate, “color blind” policies leave our state government unable to directly recognize the very real burden that racism places on black, latinx, and other Californians.
Ironically, affirmative action still exists in the public university system—but only because of federal hiring and contracting guidelines. Californians shouldn’t have to look to the federal government (particularly this administration) for help dismantling racism. California needs the flexibility to create fair hiring and university admissions rules that directly recognize the value of diversity and have the power to counteract the deeply unequal society America and the federal government helped build. This starts with voting yes on Prop 16.