Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

Countdown in California: Students Offer Voter Initiative to Counteract Proposition 209

Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

Countdown in California: Students Offer Voter Initiative to Counteract Proposition 209

Article excerpt

Members of Students for Educational Opportunity, a Berkeley-based group working against the clock to restore affirmative action in education. By the end of March they had gathered 200,000 signatures to place a new initiative on California's November ballot. The initiative, which is designed to counter Proposition 209, states that California may "consider the economic background, race, sex, ethnicity, and national origin of qualified individuals."

Angela Guerrero, a Boalt Hall law school student, is co-chair of the group and co-author of the Equal Educational Opportunities Initiative (EEOI). She believes affirmative action is still needed.

"With the repeal of affirmative action, the problem of inequality has worsened," Guerrero said. "We believe that hard-working and talented students are unfairly being denied access to public education.

"Since the [University of California] Regents instituted their own affirmative action ban for professional school admissions two years ago, there has been a staggering 60 to 70 percent drop-off in already under-represented students," she continued. "At the law school, we've gone from being the most diverse to one of the least."

Students for Educational Opportunity chose the initiative process because they believe that the California courts and legislature have been unsympathetic to the issue of educational access. The group is depending on a network of volunteers across more than thirty campuses to gather the 750,000 valid signatures needed.

"We're the only one's out here challenging the re-segregation of our schools," Guerrero explained. "We have no press consultants or paid signature collectors. We're doing this without much money, and it is an uphill battle getting petitions returned.

"But what's interesting about this campaign is that there are a lot of folks coming forward who are not leaders of organizations," she went on. "They are individuals who are frustrated. We're seeing a lot of fresh faces ... folks who have never organized or been involved in politics. This issue is politicizing them and motivating them to lead."

If the students and their off-campus supporters miss the April 17 deadline, they may have a chance in June to file the signatures for an election in 1999 or 2000.

Ethnic studies professor Ronald Takaki believes that there is a good chance the initiative will be placed on the ballot.

"The fight over [Proposition] 209 isn't over. …

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