A group of around forty students gathered for the tenth annual Facing Race Conference on Saturday, May 17, to discuss issues facing youth of color and the obstacles that hinder diversity within the UC system. Associated Students’ Student Commission on Racial Equality (SCORE) hosted the event at the Humanities and Social Sciences Building and the new A.S. Annex.
The theme of this year’s conference was “Solidarity and Community through Empowering Our Youth.” Students from a Los Angeles area high school came to participate and learn from the experiences of UCSB students. “We can’t really address these issues of higher education without involving [the youth], instead of being talked about, they should be talking with us,â€ said Justin Reyes, one of the event organizers.
The all-day conference began with an address by Marisela Marquez, professor of Chicana and Chicano Studies and president of La Casa de La Raza, an outreach program for the Latino community in Santa Barbara. Marquez discussed the irrational fear that results from racism, asking, “Why must it always be that the other is scary?” She insisted that race is not innate, that it is a social construct that can be deconstructed. She also discussed AB540, a resolution that allows immigrant youth who have lived in California three years and received a high school diploma to pay in-state fees at a UC, although they cannot get financial aid. For Marquez the best solution involves no fees for education, and therefore no “gifted” or “special” group of youth.
The Facing Race conference hosted various workshops led by students, artists, and student-artist-activists. A few of these dealt with expressing identity or activism through forms of art. Another focused on the low rates of matriculation by Filipino students in the UC system.
A workshop led by Christine Byon, a fourth year student, and Paulina Abustan, a second year, explained institutional barriers to diversity. One of their key examples was Proposition 209, which banned race, gender, or ethnicity based hiring practices, passed by California in 1996. Other resolutions, SP1 and SP2, were passed in 1995 to ban the use of race, gender, etc. in admissions or hiring at UC’s, but were repealed in 2003 due to student activism.
After these laws went into effect, there were record low numbers of many minorities in the UC system and funding of outreach programs decreased from $80 million to $19 million, although universities began focusing on student experience rather than just test scores in admissions and guaranteeing more spaces for transfer students from community colleges.
Abustan and Byon presented the education system as a pipeline, with each level of education being a crack through which more and more students are falling. Many of the obstacles to higher education–lack of school supplies, lack of AP/IB courses or SAT prep, high tuition fees, or culture shock–especially impact minorities who often live in poorer areas.
A 16 year-old girl from a West Hollywood high school talked about her best friend who just dropped out of high school but is a great cook and wants to go to culinary school. “Are people really going to judge her just because she dropped out of school?” she asked.
During lunch, there was an art show featuring paintings and murals by Jose Francisco Solis, Jose Olivera, and Vanessa Terran. There were also spoken word and musical performances by Kitzia Esteva, a UCSB student, and Manuel Unzueta, an artist and activist from Mexico. Unzueta encouraged students not to be afraid to say something that may seem different and said, “The purpose of the university is to speak the truth.”
Reyes felt that the event was a success and an opportunity for people from all backgrounds to “challenge themselves and really think about their life experiences and how they relate to the issues we talked about.”
Everybody who attended made a pledge to increase awareness and accessibility for those less privileged in a way most relevant for themselves. Karin Tanaka, a second-year biology major who attended pledged to “educate [her]self further about these issues”. The workshop leaders and participants expressed their belief that small actions, done consistently, can add up to major change.
SCORE is one of many groups on campus working toward equal access within the UC system. They meet Tuesdays at 6 PM on the 2nd floor of the Associated Students Building.