Playing the Race Card


Manasa Sanka

As the rain beat down in front of the Cupertino library on March 2, sophomore May Cui noticed many people waving signs and chanting “Say no to SCA 5.” They had one predominant feature: they were primarily Asian.
Senate Constitution Amendment No. 5. allows for affirmative action in public education. With this legislation, discrimination or preferential action can be directed toward groups of people based on race and sex in the college admission process. Furthermore, the nine University of California colleges would not be institutions of the state. Although the bill has been tabled for now thanks to protests by Asian-American groups, the legislators behind it hope to put it on the ballot in 2016.
However, despite what many protesters believe, the race card might not actually be a game changer as long as the students’ efforts and the quality of education remain the same.

Impact on students
With an overwhelming Asian majority at MVHS, this law can impact high achieving students by denying them college admission due to demographic criteria beyond their control. Because it allows colleges to use race as a factor, there is the possibility of discrimination against Asians since they represent a large fraction of applicants in the UC system compared to the rest of the state.
Asian-Americans comprise 40 percent of students at the UCs, however, they only account for about 14 percent of the state‘s population. Native Americans represent under 1 percent of UC students, yet account for 2 percent of the state population. The imbalance in representative racial diversity at the UC system is the problem that SCA no. 5 aims to solve.
MVHS has a long history of sending its students into the UC system, with 37.5 percent of 2013 graduating seniors attending college at a UC. By the numbers, SCA no. 5 should not make a drastic difference in UC acceptance for students of Asian descent as a quota will not be enforced and merit will still be the first and foremost indicator for acceptance. While some students may be barred from the UC of their choice, there are still eight others available. Despite the fact that private schools have always used affirmative action to increase diversity on their campuses, this does not reduce the number of students accepted into these colleges.

The target audience
Affirmative action increases diversity in schools by allowing administrators to actively try and promote diversity on campus through the admissions process. It targets underrepresented minorities, especially African Americans, Hispanics and Native Americans — groups that are often considered under-privileged.
In theory, affirmative action is meant to compensate for the lack of opportunities available to these groups. In essence, it is a second chance to succeed in life. However, according to research conducted by Richard H. Sander of the Stanford Review, students admitted to prestigious universities due to affirmative action on average have a much higher dropout rate than those who were not involved in affirmative action. Some affirmative action students are more likely to struggle academically because they are ill-prepared for the workload and academic sophistication present in their classes.
According to Economics teacher Pete Pelkey, SCA No. 5 is an extension of a broken system. Affirmative action, he claims, simply does not work and has serious repercussions.
“African Americans, Native Americans and Hispanic people have had it hard because of the prejudice they’ve dealt with. Now, 50 years ago we started affirmative action,” Pelkey said. “If we saw statistical evidence that affirmative action actually worked then I would say that’s a good thing. But after 50 years, statistically African American income or passing rates have not gone up dramatically. So based on that it’s an abject failure.”

What we think
Fifty-six percent of 144 students who responded to the El Estoque online survey believe that SCA no. 5 is a discriminatory policy and 58 percent believe it could harm their chances of getting accepted at a UC campus.
Senior Arjun Krishna shares these concerns as he believes that all students should have an equal chance to be admitted to an institution of higher education, regardless of race. So while affirmative action is meant to augment opportunities for those lacking them, it can also have the adverse effect.
“I didn’t mention my race when I turned in my UC app or Common App because I’m against the idea of people taking demographic data and using them to determine admissions,” said Krishna. “It’s my way of silently protesting against race being considered in college admissions.”
By not filling out the optional portion on the Common App which asks for race, he chose to be judged solely on his academic merit.
Senior Ashwath Raghuram believes that it is a more complicated issue than it appears. He claims that diversity is an important aspect at any university as it parallels the reality of the outside world. Despite the imperfections of the legislation, he believes it is a viable solution to increasing diversity in these colleges.
“In the end, the results show that it achieves [affirmative action’s] goals,” Raghuram said. “It works out not as they intended but it gets to the final purpose in that it does increase diversity. For the most part, ethnic background is a decent indicator of socioeconomic status. It’s not the ideal solution, but it sort of works.”
The criteria of race indicates an innate problem with the legislation itself because SCA No. 5 assumes race is an indicator of economic status or opportunities available. Thus affirmative action, often labeled as “discrimination to end discrimination,” is perceived as discriminatory and even racist policy by a majority of the student body.
“Giving certain races special status assumes all people of that race are unfortunate,” said Krishna. “That’s racist itself. We should focus on income level more than race because people don’t have control over race, and it isn’t fair to discriminate on things they have no control over.”

The reality
According Pelkey, students should not be worried by this legislation because it will not have a large impact on their admissions.
“Statistically, it’s not going to change all that much. You apply to enough schools that somebody’s going to accept you,” Pelkey said. “If you don’t get into Berkeley and you have to go to [University of California Santa Cruz] you’re still going to get an education.”
Despite SCA no. 5, MVHS students are still often more prepared for college than students at other California high schools because of the wide array of Advanced Placement classes offered, the number of clubs on campus and other educational opportunities to excel, show interest and differentiate from other applicants. According to survey data, 51 percent of students take standardized test prep classes.
“You guys do have some advantage,” Pelkey said. “You’ve been well fed, well taken care of. You’ve been given SAT prep classes. You’ve been prepared to do this thing called college.”

With a law like SCA no. 5, legal ramifications are likely to follow. Constitutional Amendment 14, the Civil Rights Amendment, prevents any action that could cause discrimination by race or ethnic background.
“There’s going to be a lawsuit. The standard is UC Board of Regents v. Bakke decision, [which] was an 1986 decision that said you can use affirmative action, but it cannot be the criteria with which you select people,” Pelkey said. “If everything else is equal, affirmative action can carry.”
Despite the fact that affirmative action has few solid stories of success, Krishna believes that it is a way to fix the effect rather than the cause of the problem of fewer people of lower socioeconomic level graduating from higher education.
“We need to ensure that people are provided with opportunities with no disparity in quality of education,” said Krishna. “If quality of education does differ, that is the root cause of limited success [for underrepresented minorities]. We are treating the symptom, not the cause.”