By Jose Ivan Cazares
MONTEREY PARK — Area elected officials urged voters to approve Proposition 16 and restore affirmative action in California during a press conference Oct. 14 at East Los Angeles College.
If approved by state voters Nov. 3, Proposition 16 would be key to addressing racial disparities in higher education, according to representatives from state, county and city government, as well as a board member of the Los Angeles Community College District, who attended the press conference.
“We all know that the work that was started to make our businesses, our government, our universities and our society more equitable was never completed; and this spring a police officer killed George Floyd, forcing us as a country to accept that yes there is such a thing as systemic racism; and no, we have not rooted it out,” Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas said. “It’s not just a police problem, it’s a societal problem.”
The ballot measure would repeal Proposition 209, which voters approved in 1996. It prohibits state government institutions from considering race, sex or ethnicity when it comes to public employment and education. In 2011, the state Legislature considered Senate Bill 185, which would have required affirmative action in California’s public universities. Gov. Jerry Brown, however, vetoed the bill.
At the Oct. 14 press conference, some minority students shared how affirmative action would help them succeed in an education system where they don’t see themselves reflected in the larger student body or faculty.
“As a first-generation college student, and as a non-traditional student, I would find it really discouraging when I didn’t see myself reflected in the staff or the students at academic institutions, but I’m tired of that so I decided to do something about it,” said Korima Martinez, a third-year political science major at ELAC. “I’m ambitious. I want big things, and this is going to make sure me and people like me will be given the opportunity to prove themselves.”
LACCD board member Andra Hoffman said that Prop. 16 would enable community colleges and universities to hire a more diverse faculty as well.
“Community colleges are open access, so there’s no admission requirements,” Hoffman said. “However, when a student comes to us and they don’t see themselves in the faculty and staff that are serving them, students are put in a real disadvantage,” she said.
Opponents argue that Prop. 16 would do more damage than good.
“Proponents of Proposition 16 couch their support for the measure by using words like ‘diversity’ and ‘representation,’” said Frank Xu, an opponent of the measure, in a San Diego Tribune Op-Ed. “What they are really advocating is that the government treat its citizens differently based on immutable characteristics.”
Jose Ivan Cazares is a freelance reporter for Wave Newspapers who covers the East Los Angeles area. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.