Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

California Students Strike Back

Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

California Students Strike Back

Article excerpt

A class-action suit has been filed against the University of California charging the new admissions policy discriminates against students of color

SAN FRANCISCO -- Five civil rights groups have filed a class action lawsuit against the regents of the University of California, alleging that UC-Berkeley discriminated against African American, Chicano, Latino and Filipino American applicants for undergraduate admission in 1998.

The suit, Jesus Rios v. The Regents of the University of California, was filed in U.S. District Court in San Francisco earlier this month.

Rios, an 18-year-old son of immigrant farm workers from California's Central Valley, is one of eight student plaintiffs named in the suit. He had a 4.0 GPA in high school and is the first in his family to attend college.

"I'm here to change the admissions standards so everybody has an equal opportunity to attend UC-Berkeley," he says, "because I didn't."

The student plaintiffs all applied for and were denied undergraduate admission to Berkeley for fall 1998, the first year after Proposition 209 went into effect, when race and ethnicity could no longer be considered in admissions to California's public institutions.

Yet lawyers bringing the case say the lawsuit is not a challenge to Proposition 209. They argue that Berkeley's admissions process is inherently flawed in that it relies too heavily on SAT scores and advanced placement (AP) classes, which are most widely available in affluent, predominantly White schools. Lower income students, they say, often don't have access to expensive SAT review courses and AP classes which can boost a student's GPA as high as 5.0.

Lawyers for the students presented statistics from the California Department of Education which show that 53 percent of the state's public high schools offered no AP courses whatsoever in the 1997-98 school year, while 4 percent offered 21 or more. White students have 32 percent more opportunity to take AP courses than Latino students, 30 percent more than Black students and 35 percent more than Filipino American students.

"It creates an uneven playing field for African American, Latino, and Filipino American students," explains Kimberly West-Faulcon of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund Inc. "It places students without access to these courses at a severe disadvantage."

West-Faulcon says the goal of the lawsuit is to force Berkeley to correct what the students and their lawyers believe are unfair aspects of the university's admissions process, "so that applicants are reviewed on a more complete definition of merit."

Another of the plaintiffs' attorneys, Eva Jefferson Paterson of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area, points out that 750 students of color with 4.0 GPAs were denied admission to Berkeley last year.

While Berkeley admitted 48 percent of White applicants with a GPA of 4.0 or higher, only 40 percent of Latino applicants, 38 percent of Black applicants, and 31 percent of Filipino American applicants with similar GPAs were admitted, lawyers claim. Only 3 percent of the freshman class was Black and 7 percent Latino.

"The admissions policy of UC-Berkeley violates federal civil rights law," Paterson says.

Paterson alleges that Berkeley has violated Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which prohibits recipients of federal funding from discriminating on the basis of race and ethnicity, and the 14th Amendment, the equal protection clause of the U. …

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