The Supreme Court banned affirmative action in college admissions, after ruling that admissions programs used by Harvard University and the University of North Carolina violate the Constitution’s equal protection clause. Affirmative action has been around since 1978 to increase racial diversity at colleges and universities, but California banned the practice at its public universities in 1996. School officials have reported that they haven’t been able to meet their diversity and equity goals, despite alternative admissions standards and outreach. Now, more than 80 private institutions in the state will also have to tailor their policies.
On this week’s “In Focus SoCal,” host Ariel Wesler sits down with Mitchell Chang, interim vice provost of equity, diversity and inclusion at UCLA to discuss the initiative that UC schools have taken to draw in a more diverse student population since the 1996 ban.
“The UCs handled the review of applications differently, looking beyond grades and test scores, and taking what is often referred to as a more holistic approach that considers the communities where students live and went to school,” said Chang. “The shift was based on the general understanding that certain applicants may not have had easy access to quality college preparation, such as access to AP courses, extracurricular activities, higher-level math and science courses, which are all highly valued in the review process.”
Chang added that the UC schools also ramped up outreach efforts to enhance strategic partnerships and engagement with underserved communities. “These efforts require building lasting relationships with families, schools and community leaders,” said Chang. The UC Board of Regents also voted in May 2020 to eliminate the consideration of test scores in admissions. This decision during the pandemic helped increase the number of applicants from underrepresented populations, according to Chang.
It took some UC schools nearly two decades for racial diversity numbers to return to what they were prior to Proposition 209. “The two flagships, UCLA and UC Berkeley, both saw a significant drop in the African American student population following that first year Proposition 209 when into effect,” Chang said.
Wesler also sits down with Ward Connerly, president of the American Civil Rights Institute and a former University of California regent. He led the 1996 Proposition 209 effort to ban race-based affirmative action at public universities. He said the Supreme Court’s decision is a step forward in a movement to build a more equal and more color-blind society.
“As long as we’re not consciously discriminating against what we call underrepresented minorities, the system is working. And people who are not qualified to such an extent as they did when we were applying preferences to them, they’re going to have to get on the ball and compete academically,” Connerly said.
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