When it comes to gauging diversity on UCLA’s campus, the numbers don’t lie.
After the passage of Proposition 209, a 1996 law that made race-conscious admissions illegal at California public universities, the number of underrepresented students admitted dropped precipitously.
In the first freshman class admitted to UCLA without affirmative
action, the number of black and Latino students fell by 43 and 33 percent respectively.
The numbers don’t lie. But the slogans and rhetoric we use to describe and discuss them can.
On Wednesday, a group of students held a protest in front of the newly named Carnesale Commons in the new Sproul complex on the Hill. The protest, which was organized by the Afrikan Student Union and sponsored by several Undergraduate Students Association Council offices, voiced valid and important concerns over diversity on campus and advocated for the repeal of Proposition 209.
At the same time, the protest unfairly tied issues of diversity and affirmative action to the chancellor emeritus and professor, Albert Carnesale, for whom the new building was named.
When touching on issues as important as diversity and how to increase it on our campus, it is imperative to approach the discussion with honesty as well as passion, and to treat those involved in the discussion with understanding.
Protesters hurt their own cause when they cast individuals in a false light or set up straw men for the sake of a movement, no matter how just or necessary the cause.
At Wednesday’s event, speakers made Carnesale out to be a supporter of Proposition 209. The facts don’t support that claim.
Carnesale happened to take his post as UCLA chancellor the year before Proposition 209 took effect, a year which saw a sharp dip in admissions for some underrepresented groups.
Student complaints and protests against the new law sprang up immediately. Some students argued Carnesale did a disservice to diversity by not taking a stand against the proposition.
The protesters essentially presented Carnesale with an ultimatum: violate state law or forfeit the support of students.
The former chancellor settled on the side of the law, but not without addressing a need to promote diversity.
In his inaugural address as chancellor, he said, “Because I believe so strongly that a diverse student body will, indeed ‘lift the level of civilization of all of us,’ I will do all that I can, within the law, to nourish that diversity and make it grow.”
Later, Carnesale came out against the restrictive law, telling the Chronicle of Higher Education in 1998 that he believes “our admissions process is a better one if not so constrained (by Proposition 209).”
In 2001, he did not call police to arrest protesters who had occupied Royce Hall to demonstrate against Proposition 209, going so far as to cancel a Los Angeles mayoral debate that had been planned for the venue.
Yet the protest held Wednesday used rhetoric that waivers precariously close to slander against a man who ultimately supported diversity at UCLA.
At one point, the leader of the protest and chairwoman of the Afrikan Student Union Kamilah Moore asked protesters, “What message is UCLA sending when they name a building after a chancellor who was racist?”
Protesters answered her question with shouts that the message was one of “racism” and “profit over people.”
While it is undeniable that the real focus of the protest – the fact that diversity has suffered under Proposition 209 – deserves a loud, powerful voice on campus, misappropriating Carnesale’s legacy to promote this cause is unfair.
Carnesale has been quoted again and again in full support of a diverse UCLA campus, and oversaw recruitment efforts to combat Proposition 209’s effects by encouraging underrepresented students to apply.
To call a man who pushed money into alternative methods of bringing diversity to UCLA a racist is not only misleading, it is deplorable.
This isn’t to say that Carnesale didn’t make mistakes during his term. Certainly, he could have taken a firmer stand against Proposition 209.
Moore, a fourth-year political science student, said that in contrast to Carnesale, UCLA’s current chancellor Gene Block has been a much stronger supporter of diversity, though even he could do more. In addition to submitting an opinion piece supporting affirmative action to the Huffington Post, Block signed onto amicus briefs with the Supreme Court in supporting race-conscious admissions in a Texas case, and another dealing with a ban on affirmative action in Michigan.
While Carnesale refused to publicly denounce Proposition 209, he did attempt to promote diversity in other ways, such as reaching out to high schools in neighborhoods with high concentrations of underrepresented students.
Assertions at the protest that Carnesale was a supporter of the proposition and an enemy to diversity are unfounded and patently untrue.
To spread this misinformation is harmful to the legitimacy and faith that protests for diversity deserve and need to make a tangible difference on our campus.