Proposition 209 Spurs Roundabout Approaches to State’s Issues of Diversity.

In 1996, Proposition 209’s affirmative action ban in public
institutions left the University
of California
struggling
to maintain its diverse population, but while still adhering to state law. UCSD
in particular has dedicated itself to promoting the admission of
underrepresented minorities through outreach programs that encourage black,
Latino and Native American students to apply to the university, and if
accepted, choose to enroll as a student — a roundabout technique that avoids
considering race as a concrete admissions factor within the actual admissions
process.

The legislation makes it illegal to consider race, sex,
color, ethnicity or national origin in decisions such as college admissions,
business contracts and public-sector jobs.

This issue first helicoptered into the UC system in 1995,
when the UC Board of Regents passed a resolution prohibiting admissions
committees from employing affirmative action. That same year a conservative
movement, spearheaded by then-UC Regent Ward Connerly, placed Proposition 209
on the ballot, which passed by 54 percent.

In the past decade UCSD’s undergraduate population has grown
by 46 percent. At the same time, there are fewer black and Native American
students than before the legislation passed. And while the number of Latino
student has nearly doubled, it still constitutes the same percentage as when
Proposition 209 arrived.

Many on campus programs that have developed skirt the
proposition’s language, promoting diversity without falling under the
categorization of affirmative action. These “diversity activities” are programs
and organized outreach plans that specifically target historically
underrepresented minorities. Statistics show that among minority students
admitted to UCSD, the number of those that accept their admissions offer is
relatively low, which in turn contributes to the low numbers of such students
on campus. For these various diversity-minded groups, one key focus is the
increase of “yield” statistics — which is to increase the number of
already-admitted minority students who choose to enroll at UCSD.

Associate Chancellor and Chief Diversity Officer Jorge
Huerta chaired a university-commissioned committee that explored ways to
increase “yield,” and released report in March 2007. The report detailed some
of the diversity activities already in place and proposed others to increase
yield figures.

The African American Studies minor and the Chicano and
Latino Arts and Humanities minor are two such programs. But these are only some
of the many creative solutions that operate within Proposition 209’s
restrictions while contributing to the growth of on-campus diversity.

Such yield-boosting diversity activities are helping to
increase diversity in the context of state laws that prohibit affirmative
action.

“It’s about getting out there and doing what’s legal, [and]
reaching out to the students who wouldn’t otherwise have this opportunity,”
Huerta said.

His office is working on a myriad of programs to increase
outreach and awareness, in an attempt to expand racial diversity at UCSD.

“The numbers are really striking when you look at the
various groups,” Huerta said of UCSD’s admissions rates. “It’s not a reflection
of the population.”

Meanwhile, supporters of Proposition 209 argue against
affirmative action, as a way to increase diversity in higher education.
Connerly, for instance, has remained an ever-vocal critic of affirmative
action, and many believe his efforts to be largely responsible for the advent
of Proposition 209. Since his term as regent, Connerly has helped to bring
about similar measures in public universities in Washington, Michigan and
Florida.

Connerly contends that using affirmative action in college
admissions hurts students of underrepresented ethnicities. He believes that
affirmative action sends a negative message to high-achieving minority students
that they need an extra boost in order to be admitted to college.

According to Huerta, historically underrepresented minority
students are even disadvantaged long
before the admissions process, as they often compete against students from more
affluent high schools that usually sponsor more advanced placement, honors and
college-preparatory classes. This contributes to recent downward admissions and
enrollment trends for underrepresented minority students at UCSD.

“They don’t have the same privileges, they don’t have the
same opportunities,” Huerta said.

However, Huerta remains hopeful that his office can sponsor
programs to increase UCSD’s overall diversity.

“We’re looking for excellence and equity,” he said.

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