Janice Camarena walked into her classroom at the San Bernardino Valley Community College and took her seat. When she walked into the room, the buzz of conversation ceased and an uneasy silence ensued. The instructor announced to the assembled students that someone would have to leave, then informed Camarena and one other student that they were of the wrong race to attend this class. They left the room as the remaining students laughed.
Camarena, a widowed mother of three small children, was publicly humiliated and belittled. Camarena is white, but her deceased husband was Hispanic. This fateful day in her life was Jan. 19, 1994 — right here in California.
The class from which she was expelled was part of the Black Bridge Program, designed to give a leg up to students who may need extra help in English. To make matters worse, she was also excluded from the Puente Project that provides Latinos with special academic help. One of her children, who is Hispanic, would eventually qualify, but not her other children, who are white.
Janine Jacinto graduated with honors from the California State University, Sacramento, in June 1994. She applied to graduate school with high expectations of being accepted. She was encouraged by her faculty advisors who told her she would be at the top of the list. But a not-so-funny thing happened on her way to graduate school — she was born of the wrong race.
To add insult to injury, her faculty advisor then lied to her about the rating methodology. By happenstance, Janine had obtained a copy of the rating formula. And then she remembered that one of her faculty advisors had advised her to “Check the Hispanic box”. Fully 13 of the 33 discretionary points were awarded for race and ethnicity, while only three points separated the minimum and maximum grade-point averages. Clearly, CSUS was engaging in racial discrimination. Worse, they were covering it up, misleading their top graduates, and throwing academic integrity to the wind.
Janice Camarena fought back. She successfully sued the college and the state community college system — not for money damages — but to open all classes offered in the system to be available to all students regardless of their race. On July 11, the Chancellor’s Office of the California Community Colleges confirmed that it had settled with Camarena by barring itself from targeting any of its courses or promotional material toward any specific racial group.
Janine Jacinto also fought back and won. In settlement negotiations, the university pressed her to agree to keep the matter confidential from the public, but she refused. In the end, on April 29 of this year, the university caved in and settled. They agreed to pay Jacinto’s expenses and legal fees and to revise its ethnically weighted rating system. Further, because of their attempts to cover up their immoral and unlawful activities, the university agreed to publish the new rating system, finally bringing sunshine into the process.
These examples are just two of the most egregious acts of discrimination by the California State University and the California Community Colleges. Are there more? Undoubtedly, there are. That is why the Assembly Budget Subcommittee on Education Finance held hearings into this matter on Oct. 16, 17 and 23. The committee took sworn testimony from those within the systems and also from those who have been victimized by their actions.
Assembly Speaker Curt Pringle appointed an outside counsel, Robert J. Corry, on leave from the Pacific Legal Foundation, to question the witnesses. Corry, the attorney for Janice Camarena, specializes in race-discrimination cases and has the experience to bring out the truth for the people of California to see.
We will determine whether the community colleges are living up to the settlement agreement. We will discover whether the California State University, Sacramento has revised its racially discriminatory rating system. We will discern whether there are other similar programs on other campuses in the system. If there are such programs, the people of California should know and the legislature should act to end them.
Race discrimination is wrong; it is against the law. We will not tolerate it in California.
Assemblyman Bernie Richter (R-Chico) represents the 3rd Assembly District and chairs the Assembly Budget Subcommittee on Education Finance.