By Katherine Minkiewicz
Last week the Trump administration announced it would ditch Obama era policies on affirmative action (the concept of urging schools and universities to consider race in student admissions as a way to diversify campuses), which could affect the diversity of colleges, including Sonoma State University.
The move harks back to George W. Bush era policies when race-blind admission standards were encouraged and are now going to be urged yet again as one of the facets in university admission standards.
In 2011, the Obama Administration felt that students would benefit from being around diverse classmates and affirmative action was highly encouraged among universities.
Sonoma State University in Rohnert Park is one such university that maintains an environment of diversity, tolerance and civility.
According to the “Welcome to diversity” page on their website, “SSU strives to create a campus climate in which the desire to build trust among people is widely shared and opportunities for enhancing diversity and a sense of community are encouraged and supported. We stand committed to fostering and sustaining a pluralistic, inclusive environment…”
Mark Fabionar, director of the cultural center at SSU, says in the school’s admissions standards they do try to consider ethnicity when accepting students.
“It considers a range of things, but in terms of diversity of our community it is definitely part of outreach and admission (of students). We also look into income, all aspects of diversity are considered,” Fabionar said.
As reported by university enrollment statistics, of the 3,410 males, about 1,009 are Hispanic/Latino, 210 are Asian, 205 are multiracial, 86 are African American, 17 are American Indian and nine are Pacific Islander. 265 are unknown. As for the 5,813 females that make up the schools’ population, 2,081 are Hispanic/Latino, 397 are multiracial, 285 are Asian, 127 are African American, 24 are American Indian and 16 are Pacific Islander. 372 are unknown.
The current administration’s new stance on affirmative action may seem far-fetched and distant to schools here on the west coast where ideals are typically more liberal. While this policy may not be the end all rule of law, it could affect universities if they were to continue with their diverse friendly admission standards. Institutions could face a lawsuit or lose federal funding from the department of education.
Despite this scenario, Fabionar says diversity is and will continue to be important to the Sonoma State community.
“California is very diverse by nature in preparing students to become good citizens it is important that we have a diverse population,” Fabionar said. “This (the change in policy) is definitely unfortunate and short sided and reactionary. I think overall the current administration has got a lot of attention by pandering to the fears of marginalized groups.”
The Voice reached out to Sonoma State President, Judy K. Sakaki to get her opinion on the matter, however, she did not respond in time for publication.
“I’m sure the university will continue its commitment to diversity and inclusion and will do the most to meet that mission within the law,” Fabionar commented.
The concept of affirmative action was first coined when former President, John F. Kennedy signed an executive order in 1961 that recognized the discriminatory disadvantages for minorities.
The department of education did re-proclaim their positive stance on affirmative action in 2016 when a Supreme Court ruling said schools could consider race. In the 4-to-3 majority in Fisher vs. University of Texas at Austin, Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote, “It remains an enduring challenge to our nation’s education system to reconcile the pursuit of diversity with the constitutional promise of equal treatment.”
Clearly, that challenge still remains.
The cultural center at SSU holds around 100 events throughout the year to foster communication of different viewpoints and interaction with diversity.
The organization brings in speakers, holds workshops for community building and is a source for students who may want to start their own club or organization.
“We have a mission to make sure minority groups find a space on campus to have community meetings or to organize clubs and it is not just for minorities, it is for people to come together as a community,” Fabionar exclaimed.