UC campuses and the state legislature have upped their efforts to increase diversity throughout the college system, seeking to combat the negative side effects of Proposition 209, the California measure that prohibits public institutions from discriminating on the basis of race, sex or ethnicity.

In March, the state legislature passed a resolution, ACR 21, which encourages UC schools to initiate a student exchange program with historically black colleges and universities. Linked to such state legislation are initiatives throughout the 10-campus UC system, including a conference hosted at UCSB last week, sponsored in part by the National Science Foundation, which presented graduate school and career opportunities to minority students. Over 1,300 students from 125 colleges across California attended the forum.

“If we are serious about having diversity on our campuses, this is an opportunity to do this in a way that is Proposition 209 compliant,” Assemblyman Anthony Portantino, author of the resolution, said. “I just think it’s important to recognize and appreciate the diversity of our state and this opportunity goes a long way to doing that.”

Prop 209 forbids the state, public universities, colleges, schools, local governments and other government agencies from giving special treatment to any individual or group in public employment, public education or public contracting based on their race, sex, color, national origin or ethnicity.

While the intent was to prevent discrimination, the result on some UC campuses after its passage was a decrease in the enrollment of certain racial minorities. For instance, enrollment of black students at UCLA has dropped by 57 percent since the law took effect a little over a decade ago.

But as for UCSB, in Fall 1997, the first fall after Prop 209 passed, of the 16,718 UCSB undergraduates, there were approximately 1.1 percent American Indian students, 2.7 percent African Americans, 13.3 percent Chicano/Latino, 15.5 percent Asian, 2.9 percent Pakistani/East Indian/Other and 60.2 percent white.

Yet in Fall 2006, UCSB had a total of 18,077 undergraduates, and of these 1 percent were American Indian/Alaskan, 3 percent were African American, 20 percent were Chicano/Latino, 17 percent were Asian, 4 percent were Pakistani/East Indian/Other and 57 percent were white.

According to Portantino, his suggestion of implementing the exchange program with historically black colleges does not specify exactly how the UC should move forward with the initiative. Part of his hope is that students enrolled in the program will spend two years at their UC, and then spend another two years at one of 103 historically black colleges, located mostly in the southern United States.

“The important thing is to try every means possible to increase and appreciate diversity on campus,” Portantino said.

Portantino said he would like to see the UC start such exchange programs this fall. However he said such a target date might be unrealistic.

According to UCSB Diversity Coordinator Zia Isola, diversity initiatives are necessary in California because the number of minority students entering the university, specifically graduate school, is not reflective of the general population. She said the recently held forum at UCSB is a way to inform students who might not otherwise have known about graduate school opportunities.

UCSB Graduate Division Director of Recruitment Monique Limon said the conference also served to highlight the university’s strong graduate program.

“These are some of the best students in the state, and the forum is a wonderful opportunity to showcase the strengths of our campus,” she said.