Does affirmative action matter anymore on college campuses? New data says ‘yes’

LatinaLista — The debate over affirmative action in college admissions has been as devisive as the ones currently over immigration reform, healthcare reform or tax reform. The key word is ‘reform.’ Affirmative action has always been about reforming the status quo and giving a greater variety of students access to higher education.

The University of Texas at Austin is said to be one of the most diverse college campuses in the nation.

Over the years, students who belonged to the majority on campuses (read Anglo) didn’t appreciate such a directive when they lost out on admission to a favorite university because of the policy. This week, the Supreme Court will hear yet another challenge to affirmative action when they reside over Fisher v. University of Texas.

The ultimate question facing the Supreme Court is if it’s time to end affirmative action. Though the policy has undoubtedly disrupted the plans of some students who had their hearts set on attending a particular university, it’s important to gauge the true effectiveness of the policy by examining the broader issue of whether or not it’s made a difference on those campuses that use it, to some degree, when considering students.

A new study by the Civil Rights Project, that compares the University of California, which has a ban on affirmative action, and the University of Texas, believes they have found the answer.

The Salience of Racial Isolation: African Americans’ and Latinos’ Perception of Climate and Enrollment Choices with and without Proposition 209 found that at the University of California underrepresented students of color feel less respected than at peer research universities.

At the University of California, for instance, only 62% of African Americans feel that students of their race are respected on campus, a significantly lower figure than African Americans at UT Austin (72%) and at two other private peer universities (75% and 76%). Similarly, 77% of Latinos at UC feel that students of their ethnicity are respected on campus, compared to Latinos at UT Austin (90%) and Latinos at two other peer universities (80% and 90%).

The study found that when there were healthy levels of racial and ethnic diversity on campus both Latinos and African Americans felt equally respected by their peers. The study concluded by showing that after the affirmative action ban went into effect less students of color applied.

“Opponents of affirmative action argue that highly talented students of color would be more comfortable on campus and more eager to come to schools where the ‘stigma’ of affirmative action has been removed. The data in this study indicates that those claims are simply incorrect,” said Professor Gary Orfield, Civil Rights Project Co-Director. “Students who have choices feel more welcome and chose to enroll in campuses that positively pursue diversity.”

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