faces in the crowd (part one of three)

In the past 40 years, UCSD has seen a number of significant changes in the ethnic makeup of both the faculty and the student population. Known as a campus that is host to a Caucasian and Asian-American majority, UCSD has historically lacked strong numbers of African-American, Native-American, Mexican-American and Latino students.

Guardian file photo

The controversial issue of racial diversity has been debated by students and faculty for years, particularly surrounding affirmative action.

The practice of using race or gender as a factor in employment and education became a matter of national importance in 1961, when President John F. Kennedy required that all government contractors take “”affirmative action”” to expand job opportunities for minorities. This effort to improve the lot of those perceived as hampered by their gender or race became common practice.

In 1978, affirmative action was first challenged in the U.S. Supreme Court in the University of California v. Bakke case, in which the Supreme Court upheld the use of race as one factor in choosing among qualified applicants for admission. However, in that same case the Supreme Court also ruled unlawful the practice of reserving 16 seats in each entering class of 100 for disadvantaged minority students at the UC Davis Medical School. This apparent contradiction only further clouded the issue as opponents and supporters of affirmative action became more vocal.

Guardian file photo

The UC Regents took action when they voted to end all affirmative action in 1995, under resolutions SP-1 and SP-2. This meant that the University of California would no longer use race, gender, ethnicity or national origin as a factor in the admissions process. This policy took effect in 1997 for graduate students and 1998 for undergraduate students.

Regent David Flinn said during the regents’ affirmative action hearing in San Francisco, “”There is no dispute … amongst this board, that diversity in the student body, in the faculty, in the University of California is a very, very important thing. But I think what people [miss] sometimes is what it is that the other side is complaining about.””

But this vote was not met without considerable opposition. Students from all over the UC system protested a meeting of the regents in 1995 at which the regents debated the resolutions, and rioting was feared, although the protesters were peaceful. Those criticizing the policy called it racist and unfair.

Another blow was dealt to affirmative action in 1996 when Proposition 209 surfaced. Following the regents’ lead, voters approved the California Civil Rights Initiative in November of 1996. The proposition stated that California “”shall not discriminate against, or grant preferential treatment to, any individual or group on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin in the operation of public employment, public education or public contracting.”” This would essentially abolish all affirmative action programs in the state in employment or education.

In March 1996, a student-run demonstration blocked the intersection of La Jolla Village Drive and Villa La Jolla Drive, disrupting traffic and refusing to disperse, according to police officials. Eighteen students were arrested.

The student protestors also received publicity when they attracted former presidential candidate and Rev. Jesse Jackson to visit and speak at UCSD in an anti-Proposition 209 rally in October 1996. In his speech Jackson said, “”We need a state that is color-inclusive and color-caring, not colorblind. No rational person wants to be blind.””

The following November, once the measure had been approved by California voters, another student protest against Proposition 209 occurred when 40 students voiced their opinions through a campuswide protest.

Dressed in red T-shirts and green armbands, the students held a press conference in Revelle Plaza then marched through campus chanting, among other things, “”Pete Wilson, you liar, we’ll set your ass on fire!”” They advocated university-wide noncompliance to the proposition: Their demands were not met.

Proposition 209 did find some student support.

Then-Revelle junior Veron Stanley said, “”When I was admitted I think there were only 90 black students on the whole campus, and that’s kind of awkward. But obviously, if you’re not qualified, then get out.””

The most visible student activism, however, has continued to be in favor of fostering diversity through the reinstatement of affirmative action. While clear on their intent to comply with state law, UCSD’s administration has heard these opinions and has sought to address them.

In general, the university has responded to such protests and rallies about a lack of campus diversity with different university programs intended to help attract more applicants from underrepresented ethnic groups and retain them by making the campus environment more welcoming and supportive.

The steps are detailed in Chancellor Robert C. Dynes’ 10-point Diversity Action Plan, which was proposed and enacted in 1999.

Among the pledges for improving UCSD’s diversity-promoting efforts are increasing the then-current scholarship base three-fold, annually awarding $1 million in undergraduate scholarships by the year 2002.

Dynes also pledged to form the Center for Research in Educational Equity, Assessment and Teaching Excellence, a UCSD-designed, comprehensive initiative to increase the number of underrepresented students who achieve UC-eligibility to enroll at UCSD. The program would use outreach programs to target K-12 students.

Another significant part of Dynes’ Diversity Action Plan is the establishment of a UCSD Diversity Council. This council is not an administrative council; but rather, a council composed of faculty, staff and students, in the effort to represent many voices of the UCSD community.

The Diversity Action Plan promised to increase funding for underrepresented clubs or groups on campus, such as the African-American Student Union and the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Association.

There are some signs that progress is being made as the administration would like. In February 2001, the number of applications for underrepresented minorities, in some cases, rose.

However, as the number of overall applications rose as well, this may not reflect actual improvement: In 2001, African-American students submitted 3.1 percent of the fall 2001 freshman applications, up only slightly from last year’s 3 percent; Mexican-American students submitted 9.3 of the whole, a rise from 8.4 of the total freshman applications; and Latinos submitted 3 percent of the applications received, the same as from the previous year.

Many students feel that this has not sufficiently increased enrollment of students from underrepresented ethnic groups.

In March, students gathered in Price Center Plaza to support the reinstatement of affirmative action. The name of the rally, 52-33-28, refers to the number of African-American freshman students enrolled in UCSD in 1998, 1999, and 2000 respectively. It drew attention to the continuing decline in minority enrollment, despite the swelling number of students coming to the university.

Perhaps responding to such concerns, in May the UC Regents voted to repeal SP-1 and SP-2, initiatives that banned affirmative action. However, this did not change the status of affirmative action in admissions because Proposition 209 is a statewide policy banning the use of affirmative action.

But the symbolic gesture has earned praise.

A.S. Vice President External Dylan de Kervor said, “”Even though Prop. 209 is still in place, the act of rescinding SP-1 and SP-2 is a huge act of goodwill toward the underrepresented students on our campus, and it’s paving the way for future progress.””

Students rallied and marched in favor of affirmative action once again in October 2001. The participants highlighted the falling number of African-Americans, Native Americans, Mexican-Americans and Latinos in UCSD’s applicant pool — down from 13 percent in 1997 to less than 2 percent in 2000.

Although many UCSD students have decided that affirmative action should be reinstated, legislators, the public and the courts continue to wrestle over this thorny issue of differing concepts of fairness and opportunity. A January 2000 Gallup/USA Today poll showed 58 percent of Americans favoring affirmative action for minorities and women, up from 55 percent in 1995. Court rulings remain murky on the issue. And here at UCSD, we are living the debate — for better or worse.

Features Editor Claire J. Vannette contributed to this article.

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