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UC Student Association on the Failure of Proposition 16

The UC Student Association (UCSA) released a press statement addressing the failure of Proposition 16 on Nov. 4. The statement, which was approved by and contained all nine UC undergraduate campuses’ signatures, was made following the results of early exit polls and votes from statewide precincts.

Prop. 16 aimed to repeal Proposition 209, reversing the ban on affirmative action in public employment, education and contracting on account of race or sex-based preferences. 

The proposition was UCSA’s electoral priority on the California ballot due to its effect on the UC system and students. In response to its failure, UCSA put forth a statement of acknowledgement and solidarity. The statement was drafted by UCSA’s Executive Committee, revised and then approved by elected student external vice presidents (EVP) from each UC undergraduate campus. 

“Hundreds of UC students throughout the UC mobilized for this historic chance to advance opportunity for all in California. We were disappointed in Prop. 16’s failure, and felt the need to address disheartened students, share in their frustration and recommit ourselves to the intergenerational fight for equity in our university,” UCLA EVP and UCSA President Aidan Arasasingham said.

UCSA has advocated for policies to empower disproportionately disadvantaged student groups in higher education at the California State Legislature. However, this has been frequently obstructed by Prop. 209.

“A barrier that consistently became an issue … was [California’s] Proposition 209, a constitutional amendment passed in 1996 that banned affirmative action and was spearheaded by right-wing interests. [Prop. 209] opposed granting preferential treatment to people of color and women, despite two centuries of racist and discriminatory laws that put some people at generational disadvantages than others,” UCR Vice President of External Affairs and UCSA Chair Vincent Rasso said.

In efforts to repeal Prop. 209, UC student advocacy, activism and lobbying enabled the approval of Assembly Constitutional Amendment 5 (ACA 5), the bill that placed Prop. 16 on the ballot.

“UC Irvine’s Office of the External Vice President participated in the virtual lobby trips by lobbying Assemblymember Cottie Petrie-Norris and [California] State Sen. Tom Umberg,” UCI EVP Alan Calderon said.

Once Prop. 16 was approved, UCSA mobilized students and staff to organize for the Prop. 16 campaign through social media support, given the pandemic’s remote setting.

“[H]undreds of UC students made hundreds of thousands of phone calls and text messages to California voters urging its passage … The level of organizing behind Prop. 16 on campuses, even in an online environment, had not been seen for a ballot measure like this in a generation,” Arasasingham said.

At each campus, student leaders provided tools and resources to educate and empower their UC communities to engage in the conversation.

“[At UCI], we planned and held a Prop. 16 Town Hall in collaboration with the Student Outreach and Retention (SOAR) Center and Womxn’s Hub. The Prop. 16 Town Hall was an informational event featuring Assemblymember Shirley Weber (author of ACA 5), Assemblymember Evan Low and other activists at the front of the fight for Prop. 16,” Calderon said.

The failure of Prop. 16 will have lasting effects on UC students, faculty and community members.

“The UC will continue to be barred from creating programs for the advancement of women in STEM. The UC will continue to be barred from creating scholarships for high-achieving students of color. The UC will continue to be blind to the struggles of students based on race, gender, sexual orientation and other forms of identity. In the long run, that hurts students,” Arasasingham said.

UCSA will continue to push for increased state funding for programs that elevate underserved students, with an ultimate goal to repeal Prop. 209.

“UCSA will continue to advocate for our most disadvantaged student communities through allocated increased budgets from UC and the State to resources like Student-Initiated Outreach programs (SIOPs), and UC’s own SAPEP (Student Academic Preparatory and Educational Partnership) programs,” Rasso said.

On UCI’s campus, efforts will be made to educate student voters about the context of affirmative action since the UCSA suspected that a lack of understanding contributed to Prop. 16’s failure. 

“From believing that the proposition was meant to decrease the amount of Asian students admitted to the UC system [and] to believing that it would somehow legalize racism, students did not fully understand the process of implementing affirmative action or what it would do for the UC system. On our campus, we will continue to work with groups like the SOAR Center to help students of all backgrounds navigate higher education and educate them on the restrictiveness of Prop. 209,” Calderon said.

The student leaders at UCSA consider the failure of Prop. 16 “a setback and not the end” of their fight to repeal Prop. 209.

“This statement reaffirms the importance of diversity, equity and representation as core values UC students hold. It marks our generation’s continued commitment to the fight for affirmative action — a commitment to a fight that spans the generations of students before us and will be continued by current and future students after us,” Arasasingham said.

Rachel Vu is a Campus News Intern for the 2020 Fall Quarter. She can be reached at rnvu@uci.edu.