Why I support SCA 5
With exponentially decreasing acceptance rates and more applicants than ever before, the college admissions game has evolved from a simple rite of passage into semi-adulthood to something that many would characterize as a blood sport. Thus, it is no surprise that such polarized debate strikes the state of California after State Senator Ed Hernandez introduced Amendment SCA-5 to the State Legislature.
The amendment, which repeals the ban on Affirmative Action (AA) in publicly funded institutions in California established by Prop 209, has led several extremely vocal groups to lambaste the very thought of reintroducing AA to California’s public university system. Especially in the academically competitive and Asian dominated environment of University High School, the issue seems to unnerve the collective psyche. But is SCA-5 as bad as it is cut out to be?
I definitely do not think so. And it should not be. The fear of SCA-5 that has terrified members of the Asian American population in California is as misguided and unfounded as a fear in the boogeyman.. Let me tell you why.
One of the biggest worries about SCA-5 is that it would establish a quota for Asians Americans, effectively limiting Asian admits to an amount proportional to the percentage of Asians within the entire population. This is simply untrue. Constitutional precedent in Bakke vs. Regents of the University of California mandates that specific quotas are illegal and not to be tolerated, and the practice of AA has been upheld again and again by the Supreme Court in numerous cases over the last few decades.
Now, if AA does not mean quotas, what does it mean exactly? Well, in the text of the amendment itself, AA simply removes clauses banning preferential treatment “On the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin in the operation public education.” 1 This only means that underrepresented minorities in the college admissions process will receive a boost in acceptances. Sure, this may mean less Asian Americans will be accepted, but there is a lot more than just that to take into account when describing the effect of AA. First of all, certain Asian American groups, such as Pacific Islanders, will actually benefit from SCA-5, while Prop 209 has negatively affected them. Claiming that SCA-5 is detrimental to all Asian Americans is simple untrue. 2
Furthermore, Asian Americans as a whole are overrepresented in terms of population proportion at every Ivy League institution and top private school in America (which virtually all practice AA). Even before Prop 209 came into effect banning AA in California, Asian Americans dominated the population of University of California (UC) campuses with 35-37% representation from 1994-1996. Without AA, that number rose to only 39% in 2010.3 Although AA may negatively affect Asian American acceptance rates, the effect is merely a marginal decrease in comparison to the devastating effect on underrepresented minorities – namely black and Latino students. With an undergraduate population of 28,000, UC Los Angeles (UCLA) finds itself with only 1,000 black students.4 For Latinos, the disparity between percentage of college students and population is even worse at UCs. The racial imbalance stifles the opportunity for upward mobility and creates an environment that has proven to be non-conducive for under-represented minorities (URMs) to succeed. URMs generally come from families with far lower incomes than average and are thus inclined to score lower on the SAT than a more affluent student – a difference caused not by disparities in intelligence or work ethic, but in prosperity and opportunity.2,5,6 The UC system was created to educate and empower all Californians, and by failing to serve a large portion of the population it has been failing that mission.
At our school and in our community, I feel as if we overemphasize the negative effects of AA and fail to recognize its societal benefits. We see SCA-5 as a detriment to our own potential for success, when in actuality it does more to uplift URMs than to damage over-represented groups that many of us find ourselves a part of. Under SCA-5, over-represented Asian Americans will not be rejected on the basis of their race – we will still be accepted on the basis of merit in comparison to the entire pool of applications. Hard work and success in fortuitous circumstances such as ours will still be rewarded.7 But hardships and environments that threaten to stifle success will be recognized as well – SCA-5 will give a broader, more representative group of the population a chance as well.
- Of course, ORMs who work hard but have nothing to show for it won’t mean much in college decisions despite not having AA. And vice-versa for URMs with AA.
Written by THOMAS GUI