03.14.02 // 3:35 p.m.

Warning: this is a long one.

One year ago today I truly realized the immense power students have to bring about social change. On March 14, 2001 I marched along with over 3,000 other students on the UCLA campus to demand that the University of California Board of Regents repeal Standing Policies (SP) 1 and 2. These two policies – approved in 1995 and implemented in 1997 – eliminated the use of race, ethnicity, and gender in admissions, hiring and contracting at the UC.

One year later, in 1996, voters in California approved the deceptively named California Civil Rights Initiative, or Proposition 209 which banned affirmative action at all state agencies. The damage was done and the gains that civil rights activists fought and gave their lives for in the 1960s and ‘70s were slowly but surely being reversed.

When I came to UCLA I was part of the first class of students admitted in nearly 30 years without consideration to race, ethnicity or gender. In the spring of 1998 I read the Los Angeles Times daily in my first period class. I knew that I was part of a historic class. Administrators and UC students statewide were holding their breaths expecting the worst but hoping for the best when the admissions statistics would be released from the two flagship campuses, UCLA and UC Berkeley.

The worst happened. The numbers of underrepresented minorities (Chicanos/Latinos, African Americans and Native Americans) fell by between 30% and 50% at the two campuses. I was one of 1,001 Chicano/Latino students to be admitted to UCLA, of a total of over 10,000. This was about 30% less than the pre SP-1 numbers. The numbers of African Americans were about 50% less.

I was appalled at these numbers. I wanted to go to a school where people looked like me and shared similar experiences. I wanted to have friends whose parents were immigrants, who were the first to attend a four-year college, and knew what it was like to be – sadly – an exception. Most of all, I wanted to be at a school that reflected the immense diversity of the state and city I lived in.

The next year and the following year the numbers were still way below pre SP-1 levels. The Affirmative Action Coalition at UCLA was revived and consisted of about 13 groups all committed to the goal of repealing SP1 and 2. We knew that the repeal would do not bring affirmative action back, but it would do three things.

First, it would send a message to applicants to the UC that the UC system truly values diversity as an essential part of our post-secondary education. In effect, it would take down the symbolic “not wanted” signs surrounding UC campuses.

Second, it would spur debate nationwide about the importance of affirmative action in the collegiate admissions process. After the demise of AA in California, other states followed with attacks of their own.

Third, and most importantly, it would allow for reform in the admissions process. Basically, SP-1 stipulated that between 50 and 75% of admitted students had to be admitted solely on academic criteria, such as GPAs and SAT scores. With admissions reform, we could push for a comprehensive (or holistic) review of all applicants.

The AAC established a statewide network called the California Statewide AAC. We worked the “system” and lobbied legislators, university administrators, union leadership, the regents, faculty, staff, community organizations and other students to support us in our endeavors. We gathered signatures on petitions, faxed and called the regents. We held teach-ins on the need for the repeal of SP1 and 2.

Finally, March rolled around and the bimonthly regents meeting would be at UCLA on the 14th and 15th. We had already been planning for a huge rally for the 14th, but the repeal was not even on the agenda. The purposed of the rally would be to get the Regents to put it on the agenda and to repeal SP-1 and 2.

On Monday night we set up a tent city we called Freedom City at UCLA. Students camped out here and prepared for the rally making signs, banners, holding teach-ins, training for security, and outreaching to other students. By Tuesday night Freedom City was a flurry of activity. It was a festive atmosphere. Everyone was excited about the thought of the repeal finally happening after 6 years.

Wednesday morning I spoke during the public comment period at the Regents meeting. I don’t remember what I said exactly, but they weren’t really listening to me anyway. I hurried back out to join the rest of the 50-person strong security team. Later in the papers journalists applauded us for being so organized.

By 11 am students and news crews were packed into the meeting place, Westwood Plaza. They held signs, wore red “Access Denied” t-shirts and stickers. A few speakers spoke to hype up the crowd that was already over a 1,000 strong.

The day was advertised as a “student strike.” I spoke to a few Chicana/o Studies professors and asked them to cancel class so that their students could join the rally. The crowd was full of students from UCLA and other UCs, high school students, faculty, staff, and community members.

It was amazing; I had never seen that amount of diversity at UCLA. We began the march around campus. At one point I couldn’t see where the block ended or began. The crowd chanted loudly. As a member of the security team I wasn’t allowed to chant.

We even took over the historic Royce Hall, a UCLA landmark. We did it because at that point (around 4 pm) we knew that the Regents were not conceding to our demands, so we needed to up the ante. Later that night candidates for LA mayor were supposed to hold a major debate there, but we had other plans.

Actually, it wasn’t really planned. The only people who knew were a handful of key organizers. Everyone else went along with it. We left Royce just before 8 pm. For about four hours student leaders negotiated with campus administrators. They kept pushing off arrests. We stated our demands, they were met. We left with the agreement that the repeal would be on the May meeting’s agenda in San Francisco.

Not a single student was arrested and we stuck to the principles of nonviolence. We made the nightly news and were in every major California newspaper. We made history, and all right before finals too. On May 16, 2001 the UC Regents approved RE-28 a resolution which rescinded SP-1.

Who made it happen? The students, the mighty, mighty students who were fighting for justice and an education.

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