ERIC Number: EJ838644
Record Type: Journal
Publication Date: 2009-Mar-27
Reference Count: N/A
Affirmative-Action Programs for Minority Students: Right in Theory, Wrong in Practice
Charles, Camille Z.; Fischer, Mary J.; Mooney, Margarita A.; Massey, Douglas S.
Chronicle of Higher Education, v55 n29 pA29 Mar 2009
The use of race-sensitive criteria in admissions continues to be controversial, and critics have leveled three basic charges against it. For one, opponents say the practice constitutes reverse discrimination, lowering the chance of admission for better-qualified white students. They also contend that it creates a mismatch between the skills of minority students and the abilities required for success at selective institutions, setting those students up for academic problems. And they claim that it stigmatizes minority students as less than fully qualified, which results in demoralization and substandard performance, when in fact those students may be well qualified. The first criticism has not stood up to empirical scrutiny. The second criticism, or "mismatch hypothesis," also has not been supported by hard data. The third argument, however, merits further consideration. 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 affirmative action may indeed undermine minority-group members' academic performance by heightening the social stigma they already experience because of race or ethnicity. In addition, the authors have uncovered a fourth possibility: the idea that affirmative action exacerbates the psychological burdens that minority students must carry on campuses. Those who feel threatened because they have internalized negative beliefs about their group will find that they feel even more so if they themselves fall below the institutional norm for SAT performance. Likewise, those who feel they are representing their race every time they are called on to perform academically will have a heightened sense of responsibility, or what the authors call a "subjective performance burden," when their group's average SAT score is known to be well below that of other students at the institution. The authors' finding that affirmative-action programs can undermine grade performance by stigmatizing students and increasing the pressure they feel to perform tells less about the inherent weakness of affirmative action than about the poor fashion in which programs are carried out. Affirmative action taken to ensure the inclusion of athletes and legacies has operated for decades without creating debilitating performance burdens on either football players or the children of alumni. In this article, the authors contend that there is no good reason that affirmative-action programs for minority students cannot be run in the same way.
Descriptors: Student Attitudes, Criticism, Program Effectiveness, Affirmative Action, Minority Groups, White Students, Educational Policy, Policy Analysis, Admission Criteria, Higher Education
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Publication Type: Journal Articles; Opinion Papers
Education Level: Higher Education
Authoring Institution: N/A
Identifiers - Laws, Policies, & Programs: Individuals with Disabilities Education Act
Identifiers - Assessments and Surveys: SAT (College Admission Test)