Those Who Got in the Door: The University of California-Berkeley's Affirmative Action Success Story

Article excerpt

Presumptions of a level playing field in higher education suggest that affirmative action is passe, yet students of color continue to face situations with which other students do not have to contend. Though many persist and excel in college and become successful contributors to society, affirmative action's dismantlement makes these feats more daunting. This article examines data from UC-Berkeley alumni of color who considered themselves "affirmative action students." It discusses themes generated from interviews focusing on their academic experiences, factors that contributed to or impeded their success, and their perceptions of affirmative action's impact. The consensus: affirmative action works, while its eradication depletes the ethnic richness and "voice" of campus communities, their knowledge bases, and their sense of reality.

In 1997, the Board of Regents of the University of California (UC), led by Regent Ward Connerly, stepped up its efforts to dismantle affirmative action throughout the state's higher education system by their support of SP-1 and SP-2, two resolutions that Connerly had presented to the Board in July 1995. SP-1, which effectively halted affirmative action in admissions, called for the adoption of a policy ensuring "equal treatment" in admissions decisions-that is, it proffered that neither race nor ethnicity were to be considered. SP-2 called for the adoption of similar policy ensuring equal treatment in UC employment and contracting, which had the same impact on affirmative action in that regard. Both resolutions were passed. Both challenged the UC system's traditional support for affirmative action in its admissions and hiring practices. These actions, coupled with the passage of Proposition 209 in 1998, have succeeded in deflating the numbers of underrepresented students-particularly African American, Latino/Chicano, and Native American students-who will have the opportunity to attend the UC campus in Berkeley (UCB).1 The majority of voters in California and the majority of the Regents accepted the arguments that the need for affirmative action no longer exists, presumably because the playing field has been leveled and race is no longer a barrier to success. However, these arguments fail to reflect the reality of most underrepresented minority students and families, nor are the arguments empirically valid. The attack on affirmative action has had an enduring and negative impact on the numbers of underrepresented minority students admitted to the UC system and the University of California-Berkeley in particular.

FACTORS DISPROPORTIONATELY AFFECTING UNDERREPRESENTED MINORITY STUDENTS

Racial Profiling and Societal Stereotypes

Many minority adolescents, by virtue of their race, are faced with challenges with which other students do not have to contend. Racial profiling is a good case in point, for although poor, inner-city Black and Brown teens are more likely than their middle-class and White peers to be targeted for surveillance, stop, and search by law enforcement officials, media reports generally confirm that Blacks and Latinos from all socioeconomic backgrounds are subject to these practices. This is a reality of which many middle-class African American parents of teenage children, especially male teenagers, are all too aware. Increasing numbers of African American parents have had "the talk" with their children, instructing them on what to do if and when they are stopped by the police (Taylor, 1999).

Racial profiling, although in the public mind largely associated with law enforcement, is also common in retail stores across the nation. Many Black teens have experienced being followed or otherwise placed under surveillance as they shopped in neighborhood or department stores. In concert with other negative social perceptions of Blacks and other minorities (e.g., that they are lazy and/or possess inferior intellectual ability), at some level these students must fight internally against damaging stereotypes in order to maintain a positive sense of self and perspective on life. …