University Students Stage Protest of Assault on Affirmative Action : Noisy but peaceful march at Cal State Northridge campus was aimed at proposed civil rights initiative.
In one of Cal State Northridge’s largest political demonstrations in years, hundreds of students participated in a three-hour march and rally on campus Wednesday to protest attacks on affirmative action policies, focusing much of their wrath on the proposed “California civil rights initiative.”
In a peaceful but noisy event, the chanting and sign-carrying crowd of mostly Latino and black students paraded through campus buildings, drawing stares from bystanders and students in class. Organizers had talked of shutting down the campus, but the demonstration did not appear to cause any significant disruptions.
Campus police estimated the crowd at 600, but some student organizers said attendance approached 2,000. Campus police Lt. Mark Hissong said the event was the largest student-orchestrated political demonstration at Cal State Northridge that he could recall in his 15 years on campus. “Nothing that’s sparked this much enthusiasm,” he said.
Vladimir Cerna, a Salvadoran immigrant and rally organizer, told students they are “living in a time that is a free-for-all attack on minorities and people of color.” If today’s university students do not fight to preserve affirmative action programs, the doors to higher education for minority students eventually will be closed, he said.
“We’re trying to get people aware and educated about what’s going on in the political system,” Darius Riggins, a former officer in the Black Student Union, shouted to cheering students.
Their demands included a call for campus President Blenda Wilson to take a public stand on the initiative, which, if ultimately approved by voters, would end state race and gender preference programs.
They demanded that University of California regents reverse their controversial July decision to end race-based preferences in hiring and admissions, and want CSUN to continue itsefforts to serve minority students with programs such as remedial education.
Wilson, who is black, was at a Cal State trustees meeting in Long Beach for much of the day. But in a telephone interview with The Times, she said she plans to issue a public statement next week detailing her stance on affirmative action in general and specifically on the initiative, which is still in the signature gathering stage.
“I have views on every public policy issue that exists,” said Wilson, who commended students for the orderly and educational tone of Wednesday’s event. “What I’m most pleased about is our students did what I think the public hopes university students should do. They shared information and were responsible.”
Meanwhile, a spokesman for the controversial initiative, which backers are aiming to qualify for the November, 1996, ballot, downplayed the magnitude of the CSUN student demonstration.
“They have 25,000 students and they were only able to muster about 600 students. I think the real news is 24,400 students chose not to participate,” said campaign director Joe Gelman.
Gelman also challenged a statement Cal State Northridge issued last week in which Wilson encouraged faculty and staff members who supported the protest to participate. Gelman said that would amount to taxpayers subsidizing the political activities of state employees.
Wilson on Wednesday called the press release statement “an error,” maintaining she never gave that instruction.
Jeanette Mann, campus director of affirmative action programs, said the initiative probably would not affect Cal State’s current admissions policy, which the system maintains is not race-based, or its hiring programs.
Mann said it could kill a range of special academic programs aimed at minority students.