When second-year student Chaka Tellem was sworn into the Associated Students of the University of California (ASUC) as a senator in August, he had one main goal for the Nov. 3 election: To build support for California Proposition 16.
After speaking with other Black student leaders on campus, Tellem authored legislation that took a formal position in favor of Proposition 16, which was endorsed by unanimous vote of the ASUC.
Proposition 16 would repeal Proposition 209, a measure passed in California in 1996 that banned affirmative action — the consideration of race, ethnicity or gender in public university admissions and public contracting. California is one of nine states in the U.S. that bans affirmative action.
Tellem, a political economy and business administration major, said that Berkeley would only benefit from the greater diversity that would come with the passage of Proposition 16.
“Having a diverse student body is an integral part of a holistic, world-class education,” said Tellem. “For Berkeley to be such a prestigious university and have such a prominent and innovative status in the world, it’s important that we make sure that the campus community reflects not only the diversity of California, but the world.”
In his campaign, Tellem and his office coordinated with his 19 fellow senators to create a guide to Proposition 16 for all communities on campus — #ASUC4EqualOpportunity.
In the introduction of the guide, Tellem explains what Proposition 16 is, as stated on the 2020 ballot — it would allow diversity as a factor in public employment, education and contracting decisions. He goes on to show how increased diversity enriches the educational experience by improving critical thinking skills and communication, as well as expanding awareness on how to create equitable solutions and challenging stereotypes.
“Since the passage of Proposition 209, diversity has been lacking at a lot of public universities here in California, most notably at UC Berkeley with our Black population, Indigenous population and Latinx population,” said Tellem. “We need to have race-conscious policies to subvert and retract a lot of racial disparities that our nation has institutionalized.”
Mateo Torrico, a third-year political science major, said that by increasing diversity on campus, he believes students will feel more comfortable interacting with different communities.
“I’m a person of color,” said Torrico, an ASUC senator, “and I know a lot of us students, especially the Latinx population and the African American population, seclude ourselves to our own cultural groups,” said Torrico. “A lot of us are first-generation students, so when we get here, it’s like we’re thrown into the lake and expected to know how to swim. So, obviously, we’re going to look for people who are like us to find a sense of home. If there were more people of color here, I think the probability of us integrating would become a lot higher.”
As part of the campaign, each senator provided a description of why a specific group their office works to support, from environmentalists to dancers to undocumented students, should care about Proposition 16.
Senator Ronit Sholkoff, a history major who represents the Jewish community at Berkeley, wrote: “We, as a community, are obligated to seek justice and build a more just and righteous world.” The Jewish community at large, she wrote, faces anti-Semitism and prejudice, which are amplified for communities of color. “For Jews of color, the intersection of anti-Semitism and racism converge, creating unique challenges… Affirmative action is a proven way to reduce inequalities and inequities in order to begin dismantling systemic and institutional racism.”
By instituting policies like affirmative action, she said, we would be one step closer to creating a more just world. “It’s just the right thing to do,” she said.
In her work as a senator, Apoorva Prakash, a double major in computer science and economics, focuses on increasing diversity in the STEM community, among other issues. She wrote that Proposition 16 would benefit women, especially during the pandemic, by re-establishing equal opportunity programs and by investing in minority-owned and women-owned businesses.
“I see affirmative action as a huge positive,” said Prakash. “I think one of the biggest misconceptions around affirmative action and racially conscious hiring practices is that it puts others at a disadvantage. But I don’t think that’s true because it assumes that the playing field is equal, which it isn’t for people of color — especially women of color. So, we need to help them. We need to level the playing field.”
The most important thing for the campus community, the senators agreed, is that they make their voices heard by voting on Nov. 3 — something that the ASUC has been working hard to promote in their events and messaging.
“I hope students talk to their friends about voting — you really can have a big impact,” said Prakash. “I feel like the reason people don’t register to vote or don’t vote is because it might seem like it takes a lot of effort. But it’s a super quick process. Even if you don’t know everyone you should be voting for, just vote for what you know — get your voice heard.”
“If you want to have a stake in your future,” added Sholkoff, “get out and vote.”