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Affirmative Action Detrimental?

By: Tim Wallace

A recent study published in the Chronicle of Higher Education has found that affirmative action may be causing an increase in academic pressure for minorities at elite colleges and universities, as well as providing them with a less-than-liked social stigma. 

The study was led by academic researchers Camille Z. Charles (University of Pennsylvania), Mary J. Fischer (University of Connecticut), Margarita A. Mooney (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill) and Douglas S. Massey (Princeton University).

According to the study, “If white students believe that many of their black peers would not be at a college were it not for affirmative action and, more important, if black students perceive whites to believe that, then affirmation action may indeed undermine minority-group members’ academic performance by heightening the social stigma they already experience because of race or ethnicity.”

The researchers also feel that minority students are burdened psychologically because “Those who feel they are representing their race every time they are called on to perform academically will have a heightened sense of responsibility.”

The field work was conducted at 28 universities across the country. The researchers examined affirmative action with regard to the SAT scores and current grade point averages (GPA) of roughly 4,000 students. 

It was found that about 84 percent of African-American students and 66 percent of Hispanic students in the study had test scores below their school’s average. The research indicated that in the institutions with greater discrepancies between the SAT scores of African-American, Hispanic and other student bodies, the lower the GPA of minority students would be. It is in this regard that the stigma about minorities is created.

“If you frame [affirmative action] as a process of letting less qualified people in and giving them remedial help, it gives them a stigma,” reads the study. “If you frame it as an attempt to bring a diversity of talents to a campus, then it mitigates the effect.”

The study also insists that a discrepancy exists between racial affirmative action and other demographics, such as athletes and children of alumni, that receive “preferential treatment at selective universities.” 

“Athletic scholarships have been accepted as part of higher education for a long time, not in the Ivy League obviously, but in other elite schools,” says the study. “Legacy recruitment is as pervasive. Both athletics and legacy recruitment are built into the social structure of elite higher education in the way that racial affirmative action is not, since it only came about in the 1970s.”

In a similar 2005 study at Princeton, it was found that admission rates for minority and “economically disadvantaged students” would increase if  SAT scores were eliminated as an admissions requirement to colleges and universities. This study was headed by Thomas Espenshade, a professor of sociology, and Princeton’s Office of Population Research Programmer Chang Y. Chung. 

These findings match those of the more recent study, which states“We know that SAT scores don’t accurately represent ability, of minority groups in particular, and that they under-predict their actual performance. So placing less weight on SAT scores increases access to elite higher education for a wider set of people.”

Tim Wallace can be reached at timothyw@student.umass.edu.



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