Diversity & Democracy: Civic Learning for Shared Futures
Diversity Innovations Institutional Leadership and Commitment
Diversity Digest Volume 7, Number 4

Diversity Digest
Volume 7,
Number 4

Download our print issue (PDF)
Institutional Leadership and Commitment
Learning Through Evaluation: The James Irvine Foundation Campus Diversity Initiative (CDI) Project
James Irvine Foundation’s Campus Diversity Initiative
Diversity Climate Surveys:
Worth the Effort
Unleashing the Power of Metaphor: Pepperdine University
Implications of Prop 54
Faculty Involvement
Enhancing Diversity: University of Southern California
More than Bittersweet Success: University of the Pacific
Curricular Transformation
Institutionalizing Diversity: Occidental College
Educating for a Just Society: University of San Francisco
Making Diversity News
Media Watch
Teaching Students Media Skills
AAC&U Evaluation Resources
Irvine CDI Evaluation Resources
DATA: Capturing Hopes

National Implications of California’s Proposition 54-type Initiatives

Alma R. Clayton-Pedersen, co-director, Irvine CDI Evaluation Project, and vice president for Education and Institutional Renewal

While defeated, the very appearance of Proposition 54 on the recall ballot in California should prompt national vigilance in defeating similar efforts if they surface elsewhere. Officially known as the Classification by Race, Ethnicity, Color, or National Origin (CRECNO) constitutional amendment, proposition 54 was promoted as the “Racial Privacy Initiative.” Its resounding defeat signaled Californians’ recognition of the negative impact it would have had on the efforts of its schools and colleges to achieve educational equity for underrepresented students. If passed the legislation would have prohibited state and local governments from using race, ethnicity, color, or national origin to classify current or prospective students, contractors, or employees in public education, contracting or employment operations. We believe it is likely that Prop 54’s defeat is not the end of these battles. If other states pursue similar efforts, they will undermine educators’ efforts to engage diversity as a means of enriching both student and organizational learning.

Supporters of CRECNO argued that to eliminate the knowledge of an applicant’s racial, ethnic, color, and national origin would ultimately make the disparity in education and employment opportunities disappear. CRECNO opponents were concerned that the legislation would result in the loss of a decade of data critical to determining if progress had in fact been made in closing the gap that all agree exists in access to high quality education; academic achievement; health care, employment access, and home ownership.

Presidential Professor Jeannie Oakes of the University of California, Los Angeles strongly voiced her opposition to the legislation and disagreed that exemptions allowed for the collection of federally required data would address opponents concerns. She states:
Without complete information and good research, policymakers, educators, and the public won’t know why we have such terrible racial gaps in school achievement and college going. Even worse, without this information, we can’t fix the problems that perpetuate the gaps … [we’ll] simply have to guess about what policies to revise and what services to provide.

Educators, health care associations, and social science researchers alike have been strong in their criticism of this legislation. The American Sociological Association agrees that to measure the different experiences, treatment, and outcomes of various races is essential to track inequalities, inform policymaking, and achieve social justice. It concludes:
Refusing to acknowledge the fact of racial classification, feelings, and actions, and refusing to measure their consequences will not eliminate racial inequalities. At best it will preserve the status quo (ASA, 2003, 2).

Just as many campuses are learning how diversity contributes to all students’ learning, and recognizing that their viability relies on this institutional learning, Prop 54-type legislation would communicate that collecting such data would be both unimportant and illegal. Indeed, the lessons that the CDI campuses have learned come in part from collecting data about their students, faculty and staff and disaggregated it by race, ethnicity, and gender. Prohibiting the collection and use of such data would deal a substantial blow to educational improvement efforts. Given the demography of our nation, such data is vital to ensuring access to high quality education and academic success for all citizens.

Recent studies of discrimination in housing, employment, and our criminal justice system provide ample evidence that racial discrimination is alive and well in the U.S. Until the nation can eliminate bigotry and prejudice, we will have to rely on studies using disaggregated data to ensure that all citizens are being treated equitably. Until we achieve this democratic ideal, passage of Prop 54 -type legislation would threaten our nation’s economic, political, and cultural well-being.


American Sociological Association. 2003. The importance of collecting data and doing social scientific research on race. Washington, DC: ASA.

Questions, comments, and suggestions regarding Diversity & Democracy should be directed to Kathryn Peltier Campbell at campbell@aacu.org.
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