Affirmative action policies applicable within state programs and institutions of higher learning were deemed illegal in the state of California when the electorate passed the legislative initiative Proposition 209 in 1996. With this decision a thirty -five year tradition came to a close, dismantling recruiting, tutoring, counseling, and outreach programs instituted via affirmative action to ensure that all sectors of the state's population, regardless race and gender, would have equal access to employment and educational opportunity.
Proposition 209 made it illegal for local governments and public schools from "granting preferential treatment to any individual or group on the basis of race, sex, [or] color." Such statements were deceptive to the voting public in many cases, as the initiative appears to promote an anti-biased stance geared toward protecting individuals who suffer discrimination in the public sphere. Instead, Proposition 209 effectively denies women and racial minorities of programs that provide them access to educational and social opportunities they had previously lacked. Such programs could include undergraduate and graduate admissions; fellowships and merit-based financial aid; institutional support for ethnic- or gender-based organizations; services for members of particular ethnic or gender groups; institutional sponsorship of special events and celebrations for members of particular ethnic or gender groups; and gifts and grants targeted to individuals from specific ethnic or gender groups.
Originally affirmative action's purpose was to provide the remedy for marginalized racial and gender groups for historically reproduced systems of discrimination, as well as to achieve diversity within state programs and institutions. Proposition 209 marks a shift in such commitments in the state of California and potentially the United States at large. The legal status of Proposition 209 is currently under review in the judicial system. However, if it is upheld in the courts, it will be a historical turning point in public education and explicitly reveal society's discriminative attitude towards educational opportunities for racial and gender minorities.
Proposition 209: Text of Proposed Law. www.ss.ca.gov/Vote96/html/BP/209text.htm
Prepared by: Kris Kim (UCLA)
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