“I’m not gonna lie, I’m pretty bummed out about it."
That's UC San Diego student Nyaduoth Gatkuoth, who spent months putting up signs and campaigning on street corners for Proposition 16, an attempt to overturn the state’s 1996 ban on affirmative action.
The results, still incomplete, aren't close. The Associated Press called the race on Wednesday, and the measure is currently losing by 1.5 million votes, good for 44% of the total.
Gatkuoth is one of many students who worked hard on the campaign and now have to come to grips with the measure's defeat. UC Berkeley student Derek Imai, Northern California phone bank coordinator for the campaign, is another. He said he "cried a lot."
“People believe that we live in a colorblind society," he said, "and we truly don’t."
Proposition 16 would have allowed state universities and other public institutions to again consider diversity in admissions and hiring. Opponents argued the measure would have sanctioned widespread discrimination.
“Only by treating everyone equally can a state as brilliantly diverse as California be fair to everyone,” the No on Proposition 16 campaign website reads.
In arguing for race-conscious admissions, students like Imai and UC Berkeley classmate Kyndall Dowell say there is a lack of diversity on campus and a climate that can be unwelcoming for Black and brown students.
“I do not believe that we live in a post-racial society,” Dowell wrote in an email. “We must be willing to engage with and discuss race and evaluate our positioning in society of how we benefit from systems others do not.”
Dowell points to research that found Proposition 209, the measure that ended affirmative action in 1996, deterred Black and Latino students from applying to UC even if they were eligible, leading to disproportionate declines in enrollment. Since then, UC campuses, especially the highly competitive UCLA and UC Berkeley, have struggled to keep up with the state’s diversity, despite the implementation of a “holistic” application review policy and robust diversity programs.
This summer, UC regents unanimously backed Proposition 16, citing momentum spurred by a societal reckoning on race. Students and university leadership alike hoped the spotlight on racial injustice that followed the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer created an opening for change.
“Where did that energy go?” Imai said. “It was just shocking to see that all this movement didn’t result in an actual tangible way to promote racial justice.”
Despite her disappointment, Gatkuoth said she isn’t surprised by the outcome — and not just because the ballot language may have confused voters. As a San Diego native, she says she’s well aware of California’s conservative undercurrents.
“There’s a view of California as one of the most progressive and liberal states,” she said. But hearing arguments about reverse racism during hundreds of campaign calls this summer further debunked that reputation for her.
“It made me realize how individualistic American politics is, and how everyone sees it through a lens of what their experience is,” rather than trying to relate to what other people have gone through.
Despite her disappointment, she says she’s not giving up.
“As a Black woman, and a dark-skinned Black woman in particular, this is something that I need. I want to be in spaces where I see more people who look like me.”
Gatkuoth says she plans to harness the lessons of the campaign and channel her anger over the defeat toward a future, better iteration of Proposition 16.
— @vanessarancano) (