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The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights

The Nation's Premier Civil and Human Rights Coalition

The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights  & The Leadership Conference Education Fund
The Nation's Premier Civil and Human Rights Coalition

Students, Organizations Testify Against Ward Connerly's 'Multiracial' Checkbox

Feature Story by civilrights.org staff - 11/17/2004

The University of California (UC) Board of Regents heard testimony Wednesday on a proposal from affirmative action opponent and UC Regent Ward Connerly to add a "multiracial" category to the university's admissions application, a move critics say will hamper the UC system's efforts to promote diversity and enforce civil rights protections.

The Board of Regents is expected to vote on the measure at a Thursday meeting on UCLA's campus.

If approved, the proposal would instruct UC to request permission from the federal government to include a "multiracial/multiethnic" box on its application. The U.S. Department of Education currently requires that students be given the option to check multiple boxes when indicating their racial or ethnic identity.

The proposal is facing strong opposition, especially from UC students and multiracial advocacy organizations.

The Association of MultiEthnic Americans (AMEA), Hapa Issues Forum (HIF), and MAVIN Foundation, three of the nation's leading mixed-race advocacy organizations are actively opposing the addition of a multiracial/multiethnic category.

"We feel that this proposal will reduce the accuracy of data collection on UC applicants, undermine federal reporting guidelines, and threaten the effectiveness of civil rights research and enforcement," the organizations said in a joint statement.

They continue, "One box simply isn't enough to accurately and completely acknowledge the diversity of mixed race UC applicants."

The three organizations have helped to publicize a petition and letter-writing campaign to urge the Board of Regents to oppose the proposal when it faces a vote on Thursday.

"Mixed race people represent a diverse cross section of racial, ethnic, and cultural heritages, with many multiracial individuals identifying with multiple communities," the organizations stated.

All three organizations emphasize that limiting students' choices to a generic "multiracial/multiethnic" category would ignore diversity and severely limit the ability of the UC system "to gain a clear and detailed picture of its student population."

"Lumping a diverse group of people into a multiracial box would not help," said Ai-Ling Malone, an undergraduate student at UC Berkeley and president of the school's Multi-Cultural Student Union. "It would be a step backward instead of forward."

Connerly, the UC Regent who proposed the change, is best known for leading the campaign in support of Proposition 209, the 1996 California ballot initiative that banned affirmative action programs in the state. Since that time, he has introduced similar initiatives in Washington state and Michigan.

In 2003, Connerly spearheaded the unsuccessful campaign in support of Proposition 54, a California ballot measure that would have ended racial and ethnic data collection by most state agencies.

Critics argue that Connerly's newest proposal for the UC system furthers a similar agenda by making it difficult for the university to accurately assess the racial and ethnic composition of its student body or evaluate the effectiveness of outreach and retention programs targeted at racial minorities and other underrepresented groups.

"Our recruitment and retention programs are already struggling," Malone said. "A multiracial checkbox doesn't tell us anything about the diversity of the student body."

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