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Think. Discuss. Act. Affirmative Action

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Review: California Students Strike Back

A. Stephens. (18, February, 1999). “California Students Strike Back.” Black Issues in Higher Education, 15 (26), 28-29.


(Download CA Students Strike Back as a PDF)

The debate over affirmative action in the academic admissions process represents a key issue contributing to America’s racial tension. Any youth worker seeking to help young people (particularly non-white students) gain entry to college must consider the justice implications of university admission procedures. While California’s recent Proposition 209 no longer permits schools from using race as a factor in evaluating a student’s eligibility, distinct, race-specific advantages still plague America’s higher education system.

In addition to a prospective student’s GPA, admissions officers at the highly competitive UC-Berkeley campus rely heavily upon an applicant’s performance in the SAT and advanced placement courses during their evaluative process. It has been argued, however, that such criteria represent an unfair disadvantage to nonwhite applicants. This is precisely what five civil rights groups are alleging in their class action law suit Jesus Rios v. The Regents of the University of California. The case charges UC-Berkeley with discriminating against African American, Chicano, Latino and Filipino Americans who applied for admission to the university’s undergraduate program in 1998. Despite Rios’ 4.0 high school GPA, the plaintiff (along with other minority students of similar academic standing) was denied admission to the school. The issue, lawyers contend, hinges on the university’s unfair reliance upon educational variables beyond the control of minority applicants.

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. 53 Percent of the state’s (California) public high schools offered no AP courses in the 1997-98 school year, while 4 percent offered 21 or more.

Additionally, the plaintiff contends that SAT questions are racially and economically biased in content. Therefore, certain portions of the population will be more familiar with the test’s subject matter than others,. Joseph Jaramillo, an attorney for Rios, states that, ” ‘Standardized test scores…tell you more about an applicant’s past economic background and a family’s wealth than they tell you about an applicant’s potential for future academic success.’ ” According to the article, lawyers for the case claim that Berkeley’s admissions process is ” ‘inherently flawed’ ” because ” ‘it relies too heavily on SAT scores and advanced placement (AP) classes, which are most widely available in affluent, predominately white schools.’ ” “The goal of the lawsuit,” the author states, “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.’ ”

In conclusion, a student’s academic merit must be assessed in a manner that takes demographic differences in academic opportunity into consideration. Those who have performed well with the limited academic opportunity they have been given should not be penalized compared to those who are familiar with AP courses and SAT culture.

Questions for Reflection and Discussion

  1. Do certain criteria for college admission (such as SAT scores and AP courses) provide an unfair advantage to certain sectors of the American population?
  2. As a youth worker, how can you become an advocate for non-white students who feel they have been discriminated against?
  3. Additionally, how can youth workers become advocates for non-white students in advance in order to prevent discrimination during the college admissions process?
  4. Would it be right for a student to sue if faced with circumstances similar to Jesus Rios’ situation? Why or why not?


  1. One of the primary tasks of youth work is preparing young people for success in life. Today, such life success requires a college education. Therefore, it is essential for youth workers to prepare, represent (advocate for), and follow up with, their young adults as they enter the college world.
  2. If minority students are denied access to college, they are being denied access to the resources of success in contemporary America.
  3. If academic evaluation is conducted according to criteria which caters to white advantages (such as access to AP courses and esoteric SAT questions), then the cycle of inequality will continue. Therefore, youth workers should fight for admissions procedures that take into account an applicant’s access (or lack there of) to various academic opportunities. A student’s academic merit, then, must be assessed according to more accurate, holistic, and fair criteria.

Nate Landis
© 2018 CYS

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