UCLA students protest race and gender policies

Times Staff Writer

Marking the approaching 10-year anniversary of Proposition 209, UCLA students Thursday called on California voters to overturn the initiative, which barred public universities and other institutions from considering race or gender in admissions and hiring.

Small groups of UCLA law students and undergraduates briefly disrupted classes at the law school Thursday morning, then rallied in a nearby plaza for speeches and a mock funeral to mourn what they called the “death of diversity” at UCLA and other public campuses since the measure passed on Nov. 5, 1996.

“Today, we are taking an affirmative step toward retaking our campus and Los Angeles,” said Doug Johnson, an African American studies major who is chairman of UCLA’s Afrikan Student Union. He urged the 150 or so students at the rally, many dressed in black, to speak out against what he called its harmful effects.


Students also marked the anniversary with rallies at other UC campuses Thursday, including UC Berkeley. Students gathered there in Sproul Plaza, but organizers said persistent rain reduced the turnout.

At UCLA, Johnson and other speakers noted that African American, Latino and Native American students continue to be underrepresented at UCLA and other UC campuses, with their numbers at the schools well below their proportions in the state’s population. The numbers plummeted the year after the ban took effect, and although they have recovered since then for the UC system as a whole, they have remained low at its most competitive campuses, including UCLA and UC Berkeley.

The speakers expressed particular concern about the dwindling numbers of African American freshmen at UCLA in recent years. For the current school year, only about 100 black freshmen enrolled in a class of nearly 5,000 -- a figure that was the lowest at the campus in more than three decades.

That statistic, released in June, shocked many on campus and in the broader community, and spurred UCLA leaders to action. In September, the campus announced it would shift immediately to a more “holistic” form of admissions, in which students’ achievements are viewed in the context of their personal experiences. UCLA officials have emphasized, however, that the campus will continue to abide by the restrictions imposed by Proposition 209.

Some speakers vowed to keep the pressure on UCLA -- and UC as a whole -- to make further changes in admissions. They pointed out that UC’s governing Board of Regents is due to meet at the Westwood campus Nov. 15 and 16, and said community groups and students are planning a rally.

Earlier, groups of students held “walk-in” demonstrations at the law school, briefly disrupting about half a dozen classes to protest the relatively low numbers of black and Latino students at the school. In each classroom, the protesters, who included black, Latino, Asian and white students, read a short statement explaining the symbolic action, then stood quietly against the walls or sat in the aisles until the end of class.


“The idea was to show everyone what a diverse class would actually look like,” said Tristan Brown, a second-year law student who was among the protesters.

In a statement, Law Dean Michael Schill said he shared the protesters’ concerns about the importance of diversity at the school, but said he did not support their disruption of classes.