In the recent general election, California citizens cast over 16.7 million ballots, ultimately rejecting Proposition 16. Had it passed, Prop 16 would have repealed the state’s current ban on affirmative action first put in place by Proposition 209 in 1996.
With the youth and minority vote at an all-time high nationwide in 2020, many advocates of affirmative action at Cal Poly Pomona expressed surprise over the results.
Attempting to reverse prejudiced methods of college admission and public contracting decision-making, the return of affirmative action would have demanded institutions to consider national origin, race, ethnicity, sex and gender in these processes. As a result, the initiative would have provided more opportunities to minority groups, promoting diversity in education and the workplace.
According to the Associated Press, the mainly liberal state of California voted No on Proposition 16 by a 57.2% to 42.8% ratio, shocking many members of the campus community, including Sophia Aguirre, a fourth year political science student.
“California is such a diverse and progressive state, I thought implementing affirmative action would be an easy choice,” said Aguirre. “Those against affirmative action argue that changing the status quo through Prop 16 is a threat to equality but fail to realize that the status quo is inherently racist.”
While some students are convinced that the result of the vote is mainly attributed to deeply-rooted discriminatory views, others believe that the proposition’s purpose lacked a fair explanation on the government’s part.
Frustrated with the oversimplification of Prop 16, ASI Officer of Civic Engagement Nicole Stai said, “When you look at the propositions on your ballot, it gives you a little introduction to each and that’s all a lot of people base their vote off of, so I think legislators really use that as a way to shape what the vote is going to be. As unbiased as they try to make it, there is always bias.”
Zachary Solorza, a fifth year plant science student, expressed a similar sentiment in regard to the framing of the proposition.
“The repeal of Prop 209 and the reinstatement of affirmative action was not as clear to voters as the supporters of the measure intended it to be,” said Solorza. “In fact, many voters that read the ballot might have thought it was more of a discriminatory measure than an inclusive one. It needs to be cleared up and pursued further before people interpret the proposition as something negative.”
Although the reason for Prop 16’s rejection may not yet be clear, student supporters of affirmative action fear possible implications of its failure to pass.
“I feel that once I try to apply for jobs in my field, it will definitely have an impact on my career and my life since I’m not white,” said Jason Banuelos, a fifth year criminology student. “It should be made clear that affirmative action is not about taking jobs away from some people but rather opening up opportunities for people who would not get the chance otherwise.”
However, some believe that the loss can act as a wake-up call for the public. Instead of fearing a plateau in societal progress and inclusivity, some students hope to see an increase in advocacy for affirmative action.
“The amount of young voters in this most recent election was record-breaking and it’s created an unstoppable momentum for systemic change. I can’t imagine this happening too soon, but as our generation continues to show up and be put on the political agenda, progression seems to be only a matter of time,” said Aguirre.
An October survey conducted by the Public Policy Institute predicted that 50% of California voters would vote No on Prop 16, 37% would vote Yes, and 12% were still undecided. Although the proposition failed to pass, the final vote count in support of reinstating affirmative action was 6% higher than predicted in the poll.
Despite the growing support of affirmative action, Stai urged the CPP community to make a continuous effort in raising awareness of inequity, starting in their own homes.
“Simply starting the conversations with your family and your friends, that’s where we can begin real change…then we can look at petitions, advocacy, and voting,” said Stai. “This vote could have been a fundamental step in the right direction and I know a lot of students and families are discouraged right now, but I expect us to progress as a university, acknowledge the problems at hand, and move forward.”
(Feature image courtesy of Tim Mossholder)
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