Affirmative Action bill SCA5 turned down for the year

Sabrina Leung, Editorial Director

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A legislative push to permit California’s public universities to once again consider race and ethnicity in admissions appears to be on life support after an intense backlash from the  Asian-American community, who fear it will make it harder for their children to get into good schools.

The California Senate Constitutional Amendment No. 5 (SCA-5) was introduced by California State Senator Edward Hernandez to the California State Senate on Dec. 3, 2012.This initiative would ask voters to consider eliminating California’s Proposition 209’s current ban on the use race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin in recruitment and admissions at California public universities and colleges. Since 1996, admission offers to black students have plunged 49 percent at UC Berkeley and 16 percent at UCLA, according to the UC system.

Hernandez said he wants to restore affirmative action in public education so that California’s public colleges and universities reflect the diversity of the state’s population, with an emphasis on African-Americans, American Indians and Latinos.

However, some Asian-American groups are worried that allowing race-conscious recruitment and admissions would cost college placements for Asian-Americans. According to the UC system, Asian-Americans are the most-represented racial minority, taking up 38 percent of the UC freshmen class.

Throughout the past three months, opponents used social media and email lists to organize rallies and town hall meetings in Chinese communities throughout the Bay area, while politicians were bombarded by emails and phone calls. Some opponents invoked the legacy of civil rights icon Martin Luther King, Jr’s by borrowing words from his “I Have a Dream” speech during protests.

“I’m not opposing it because it is a quota system; I am opposing it because it is a discrimination bill. I know some students need more help than others, but using race is the wrong approach. Every student is given the same opportunities and it depends on that student to do well and succeed,” said senior Leesan Kwok.

While some question whether the Chinese-led groups were justified in their opposition, the SCA 5 episode makes something clear: Chinese-Americans, despite the majority being foreign-born, have reached a level of political maturity where they can marshal forces statewide quickly and effectively apply political pressure tactics. According to U.S. Census Bureau figures, Chinese-Americans are now the largest Asian ethnic group in California with more than 1.2 million people.

The fight over SCA-5 shows how old attitudes are changing and Chinese immigrants have outdated views of how politics work. Under pressure from constituents, the Chinese-American senators backed away from SCA-5, and publicly asked the Assembly speaker and SCA-5 author Sen. Hernandez to stop the legislation from advancing. The political influence of Asian-Americans continues to grow as thousands of immigrants get naturalized every year and their US-born children are reaching voting age.

Education is a top priority for most Asian-Americans, but Chinese-Americans have been the most visible in fighting for access to the schooling they want. In the case Ho v. San Francisco Unified School District in 1990, Chinese-American families sued the San Francisco school district for restricting how many Chinese-Americans could attend Lowell High School.

Junior Caitlin Tsai said she was “happy” to hear SCA-5 was not advancing this year, but is worried about it coming back in 2016, the soonest SCA-5 could get on a ballot

“I’m already struggling to compete with fellow Asian American students, I am not even a part of those who will get into UCs easily, if this bill actually became a law, my already small chance will shrink even smaller- it would be unfair for Asian American students like me,” said Tsai.

However, there are some Asian Americans who support affirmative action.

“I understand why some parents would be against this bill because they spend so much effort into having their child be ‘unique,’ but they also have to take into consideration other students who are not racially recognized as ‘good enough,” said senior Karissa Wong.

Hernandez said he wants to get more positive information out to the public and to dispel what he calls misinformation about SCA-5 by creating a commission of elected officials, community leaders from different ethnic groups, students, parents and representatives from the UCs, CSUs and community colleges. Hernandez added that public educational institutions will continue to admit highly qualified students, but if GPA, SAT score, extracurricular activities and other determinants are equal, UCs and CSUs “should consider admitting underrepresented populations so that higher education institutions would accurately reflect California’s communities.”

“I believe we need to make sure there’s equal opportunity for everyone in the state of California. But there needs to be a revised bill that is not racist, inappropriate and unfair,” said Kwok.

Acknowledging the conflicting views over affirmative action, the California State Senate is continuing debates over the constitutionality of SCA-5 and will potentially reconsider the bill next year

 

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