A.S.: Prop 54’s ‘colorblind society’ not here yet

There are good reasons to “check the box,” agreed student government leaders, as they leaned toward denouncing a proposition that would forbid the collection and use of demographic statistical data such as race, ethnicity or national origin by the state.

The committee members didn’t know a lot about Prop. 54, but what they had heard disturbed them.

“We’d have no data about who’s graduating from schools, who’s in what schools, who’s getting what [social services] and diseases,” said Julie Lewis, the A.S. director of legislative affairs. “Housing and workplace discrimination cases could not be prosecuted.”

If the initiative passes, state and local governments, including school systems, could not collect racial data on anyone, with a few exceptions. The CSU currently collects such data on current and prospective students and employees as required to receive federal funding.

Proponents say Prop. 54—the Classification by Race, Ethnicity Color or National Origin (CRENCO) initiative—would make for a “colorblind society,” protecting people’s privacy and self-worth by not labeling them by ancestry or racial background. Discrimination is forbidden by the state Constitution anyway, say supporters, so the classifications aren’t needed. Chico-area Sen. Sam Aanestad, D-Grass Valley, is one of the proposition’s main supporters, as is Ward Connerly, a University of California regent and prominent African-American businessman who opposes affirmative action.

The concept of race not being an issue is an interesting idea, but, “we’re not there yet,” GAC members informally agreed.

“It wouldn’t allow us to see who’s getting arrested disproportionately,” said Mario Sagastume, the A.S. commissioner of activity fee. “If there were to be a problem, we would never know about it once this law passed. I don’t think [the nation is] ready for this kind of rule.”

A.S. President Michael Dailey, who is politically conservative, also leaned toward denouncing the proposition. “We’ve been working on diversity at the university, and this would not allow us to track that at all,” he said.

If passed, Prop. 54 would take effect Jan. 1, 2005, and provide exceptions including when data collection is required by federal law, for medical research or when law enforcement is describing individuals. But it’s unclear whether the entities could then analyze the collected data.

The resolution presented to GAC was patterned after one already passed by the California State Students Association (CSSA). Lewis will revise the resolution to better-describe the proposition, and the GAC will vote on it at its Sept. 15 meeting.