What's Race Got to Do with It?


Source: Chronicle of Higher Education, February 3, 2006

From 'Minority' to 'Diversity'

The transformation of formerly race-exclusive programs may be leaving some students out in the cold

Piscataway, N.J.

Francesca P. Rothenbacher hesitates to even discuss the hot-button issue of affirmative action. She says she was not out to prove a point when she sought admission, as a white woman, to an on-campus summer enrichment program previously advertised as reserved for black, Hispanic, or American Indian students.

A biology major, Ms. Rothenbacher says she applied to the research in science and engineering program, jointly operated here each summer by Rutgers University and the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, because "I just wanted to further my career. That is the most important thing to me."

Regardless of her intentions, Ms. Rothenbacher, a senior at Delaware State University, is one of many white or Asian-American students around the nation who are profoundly changing the complexion of college programs that had been established for members of other racial and ethnic groups.

Over the last three years, mainly in response to two landmark U.S. Supreme Court rulings in June 2003 that defined the limits of affirmative action, colleges across the country have been concluding that they are in legal jeopardy if they continue to offer some services or benefits solely to minority students. As a result, the institutions have been abandoning the use of race-exclusive eligibility criteria in determining who can be awarded scholarships and fellowships or can participate in recruitment, orientation, and academic-enrichment programs (The Chronicle, March 19, 2004).

Just last week, the State University of New York System's Board of Trustees voted unanimously to expand the eligibility criteria for a $6.2-million fellowship program and a $649,000 scholarship program that had been restricted to black, Hispanic, and American Indian students. And officials of the Southern Illinois University system sought faculty input on a plan to change the eligibility criteria for three minority fellowship programs in response to the threat of a lawsuit by the U.S. Justice Department.

Many of the programs have shifted their focus from increasing minority access to education to serving the broader and more abstract goal of promoting campus diversity. Many have taken in sizable numbers of white or Asian-American students without expanding in overall size. As a result, they are serving fewer students from the minority groups that they previously had sought to help — a development that dismays some minority advocates, as well as people engaged in efforts to diversify certain professional fields.

"You have to ask how effective the programs are for anybody at this point," argues Richard G. DiFeliciantonio, vice president for enrollment at Ursinus College, which has bucked the trend by choosing not to open a summer orientation program to white or Asian-American students. "I think damage has been done."

But Roger B. Clegg, general counsel for the Center for Equal Opportunity and the leader of a campaign to press colleges to abandon race-based eligibility criteria, disputes such assessments. He suggests that colleges are finding alternative ways to reach out to minority students, such as putting more money into programs that serve anyone with financial need.

"We are not trying to foreclose opportunities for anybody," says Mr. Clegg. "We are trying to open them up."

Altered, or Ended?

Assessing the full impact of changes in race-exclusive programs is difficult. Many colleges contacted by The Chronicle were reluctant to discuss the subject. Some said it is too early to tell how the programs will be affected in the long run. Others refused to provide a numerical breakdown of which racial or ethnic groups are now being served by the programs, saying that doing so would violate students' privacy.

Virginia Tech officials reported that their institution had discontinued "a few" race-exclusive programs, including an internship program and a pre-college summer program for minority students.

It has opened up other such programs to any racial or ethnic group, while embarking on new efforts to reach minority students through programs geared toward the economically disadvantaged.

Neither supporters nor critics of affirmative action could cite other examples of programs that have been discontinued by colleges in recent years. But that does not mean that no other programs have been shut down, asserts Daryl E. Chubin, who has worked extensively with colleges' minority programs as director of the Center for Advancing Science and Engineering Capacity at the American Association for the Advancement of Science. "No college that has had a program like this is going to advertise that it has abandoned it," he says.

Mr. Clegg says the Center for Equal Opportunity has not sought such outcomes. "In winning the debate in the court of public opinion, we don't want to be out there trying to end scholarship programs or end summer programs," he says. "We want to be in the position of supporting programs that also support the inclusion of all racial or ethnic backgrounds."

"Bureaucratically," he says, "it is easier to persuade a school to change a program than to end it."

In some cases, colleges have even overhauled their own administrative structures to avoid the appearance of providing certain services solely to minority groups. Officials at Cornell University, for example, reported that their institution had created new positions in its central administration charged with promoting diversity in a broadly defined sense. Meanwhile, the university's undergraduate schools and colleges have been renaming their various "minority" offices as "diversity" or "multicultural" offices to reflect the full range of students served.

Mr. Chubin says many colleges are responding to fears of litigation by giving their general counsel's office much more say over the administration of programs that serve minority students. He argues that when control of such programs shifts from educators to lawyers, "essentially, the character is changed," and the programs become much less focused on the goals for which they were established.

Shirley M. Malcom, director of the program in education and human resources at the American Association for the Advancement of Science, says she fears that such college programs are suffering from "benign neglect" as their administrators become more concerned with avoiding accusations of racial discrimination than with "trying to build the talent pool for the country."

Redefining 'Underrepresented'

Most colleges that have opened up race-exclusive programs to other groups have done so by expanding the eligibility criteria to include white and Asian-American students who are somehow disadvantaged.

Among them, Tufts University has altered the eligibility criteria for both a summer research program and an internship to essentially define the "economically disadvantaged" as a separate minority group that is underrepresented in the sciences.

The University of Delaware's provost, Daniel Rich, says his institution has changed a scholarship program so that, rather than being reserved for members of racial or ethnic minority groups, it is now available to students who are part of the first generation of their family to attend college; who have been through "challenging social, economic, educational, cultural, or other life circumstances"; or who are deemed financially needy based on federal financial-aid criteria. Mr. Rich reports that about 30 percent of the students nominated for scholarships last year were white, and says "the new program is better because it attracts more nominations and supports more students from more diverse backgrounds."

Other institutions, such as Saint Louis University, have opened programs to white or Asian-American students who show a commitment to promoting diversity (see box, Page A25).

In some situations where such programs already had been accepting a few white students, colleges have removed words such as "minority" from their titles, to make it absolutely clear that no one will be turned away based on race or ethnicity. Colleges are often now promoting the programs more aggressively to populations that had not been sought out in the past.

In most cases, colleges have not changed the lessons or activities offered by the programs. There are exceptions, however. The Tri-Co Summer Institute, a one-week orientation program for incoming freshmen jointly offered by Bryn Mawr, Haverford, and Swarthmore Colleges, took in its first cohort of white students last summer. It not only expanded from about 65 students to about 85, but also ended up altering the activities related to its focus: discussing issues related to race, gender, and class.

"Definitely, we have to say that the character of the program changed," says Darryl M. Smaw, Swarthmore's associate dean for multicultural affairs.

Just as in past years, the program conducted workshops in which students broke off into small, segregated groups that discussed what their particular racial or ethnic identity meant to them, and then reported back to other participants. For the first time, however, there were white students on hand to break off and share their own experiences before joining the broader discussion.

"It was really interesting to watch the white group this year. A lot of people had never talked about 'whiteness,' or what that term means to them," says Deluwara Ahmed, a Bryn Mawr sophomore of Bangladeshi descent who took part in the program two summers ago and helped run it this last time around.

Ms. Ahmed says that all of the institute's participants benefited from such discussions because "whiteness is a culture that is completely denied, when it is obvious that there are many codes that do exist in the culture that are not talked about."

Fairness and History

Issues of race were barely discussed by the students participating in the research in science and engineering program that operated here last summer, mainly at the Busch campus of the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey.

Of the 20 students in the program, 10 were Hispanic, with six coming from colleges in Puerto Rico and another born and raised in Peru. Five were black, with two born in Africa and two others the children of Jamaican immigrants. The two Asian-American participants were a young man of Korean ancestry and a young woman who had immigrated from Vietnam. Of the three white participants, one was a young man who routinely identifies himself on applications as "African-American" because his father was raised in Egypt.

Although the students differed in their views of affirmative action, most preferred not to discuss issues of race, and seemed much more preoccupied with the mathematics, science, engineering, and laboratory work that the program revolved around.

"Right now, I don't consider myself a minority," said Devin D. Downing, a junior from the University of Maryland-Baltimore County who is black. "I don't want to be defined by the color of my skin."

"I am an intelligent person, a person who exhibits such-and-such characteristics," Mr. Downing said. "I don't just want to be 'a black guy.'"

Samuel C. Dokko, a Korean-American junior from the University of California at Santa Cruz, said his involvement in the program "was not about race, but being part of a program that caters to an undergraduate who wants to get research experience."

The program, established in 2001, had initially billed itself on its Web site and brochures as being for minority populations that are underrepresented in engineering and the sciences, even though it has always accepted some white and Asian-American students who seemed unlikely to get access to such research opportunities at their own colleges. In 2003 the program revised its promotional materials to make clear that it was not race-exclusive. Its overall goal remains diversifying the ranks of people seeking advanced degrees in the fields it covers.

"I have two commitments, and I try to balance them" in deciding who participates, says Jerome A. Langer, the program's co-director. The first is trying to help remedy the effects of the nation's history of discrimination. The second is maintaining "an element of fairness for the kids who are living now."

Change Agents

Many of the colleges that have opened up race-exclusive programs have done so in response to letters of complaint from the Center for Equal Opportunity and a second nonprofit advocacy group, the American Civil Rights Institute. "We are making a real effort to visit the Web site of every college and university in the country over the next year" to look for evidence of race-exclusive programs, says the center's Mr. Clegg.

When colleges have refused to open their programs to any race or ethnicity, the advocacy groups have routinely filed complaints with the U.S. Education Department's Office for Civil Rights. The complaints accuse the colleges of violating Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination in education. Based on those complaints, as well as similar ones filed by other affirmative-action critics, the civil-rights office has investigated more than a half-dozen colleges, several of which have opened up their programs in response.

The U.S. Justice Department got involved last year, threatening in November to sue the Southern Illinois University system in response to a Center for Equal Opportunity complaint about three fellowship programs on the system's Carbondale campus. The Justice Department sent a letter to the system alleging that it was violating Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which prohibits employment discrimination, by reserving the fellowships for women or members of minority groups.

Among the colleges investigated by the Education Department's civil-rights office was Washington University in St. Louis, which had been operating two race-exclusive scholarship programs. In a letter sent to that office in October, the university said that both programs had been opened up as of the current academic year, and, as a result, white students had received 12 of 42 scholarships offered by one, and five of 20 scholarships offered by the other.

Not every college has backed down in response to such investigations. As of last week, both Pepperdine University, in California, and the University of Wisconsin System were still in negotiations with the civil-rights office over financial-aid programs reserved exclusively for needy minority students. Officials at a few other colleges, such as Ursinus, a small college outside Philadelphia, and Kettering University, a technical institution in Flint, Mich., said they were continuing to operate race-exclusive programs unchallenged, probably because their colleges had remained below the advocacy groups' radar screens. Programs that are financed and administered solely by outside entities, such as corporations and philanthropies, have also been left alone.

Many of the colleges that are opening up such programs say they are doing so in response to the Supreme Court's 2003 rulings in two cases involving the use of race-conscious admissions policies by the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor. Those rulings held that colleges could consider race in admissions, but they must treat applicants as individuals, and may not accept or reject them based solely on race.

In a report issued last June, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund argued that the Supreme Court's rulings "did not address, much less prohibit, considerations of race outside the admissions context." But most colleges have concluded that changing the eligibility criteria for any race-exclusive program is the prudent course, and some phila
nthropies, such as the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and federal agencies, such as the National Institutes of Health, have decided to cease providing financial support to college programs with race-exclusive eligibility criteria (The Chronicle, March 11).

Mr. Clegg says that well over 100 of the colleges contacted by his organization have voluntarily abandoned race restrictions, and only a handful have refused to do so. He declines to name the colleges that have backed down, however, saying, "It makes it easier to persuade the schools if they know we are not going to do a little victory dance."


Across the nation, higher-education programs restricted to certain minority groups have now admitted students of any race or ethnicity. Below are five colleges or agencies that changed their programs' eligibility criteria, and summaries of the results:

California Institute of Technology

Caltech operates a three-day campus-visit program, called GradPreview@Caltech, for college seniors who, because of their backgrounds, have had little opportunity to learn of that institution's graduate offerings. The program was restricted to black, Hispanic, and American Indian students until 2004, when it was opened to all racial and ethnic groups. Despite the change in eligibility criteria, the number of student participants has remained capped at 30 because Caltech says it cannot afford to cover the travel, hotel, and meal costs of more.

Caltech officials will not specify how many white students or how many Asian-American students participated in recent years, saying that the students' right to privacy would be jeopardized. But, officials say, both groups combined accounted for three of the 24 participants in the fall of 2004 and two of last fall's 28 participants. The basic activities offered by the program remain the same, with students meeting professors, touring laboratories, and learning how to navigate the admissions process. "We have not lost the flavor of the program," says Erica N. O'Neal, Caltech's assistant vice president for student affairs.

Carnegie Mellon University

Carnegie Mellon had been operating a Summer Academy for Minority Scholars to help black or Hispanic high-school students position themselves to pursue a degree in science or engineering at top colleges. In 2004, Carnegie renamed the program the Summer Academy for Mathematics and Science and opened it to students of any race or ethnicity, while retaining the goal of using it to promote diversity. The program's enrollment remained capped at 100.

At last summer's camp, the first to operate under the new criteria, about 15 percent of the students were either white or Asian-American. William F. Elliott, the university's vice president for enrollment, says the program remains committed to diversifying the ranks of those entering science or engineering, but "all kids who need a shot in order to expand this pipeline are not necessarily a racial minority."

Harvard University

In an effort to diversify its enrollment, the Harvard Business School operates the Summer Venture in Management Program, which offers about 80 college juniors from populations that are underrepresented in business an opportunity to spend a week working with the school's faculty.

As of the summer of 2003, the program was restricted to black, Hispanic, and American Indian students. Since then, its eligibility criteria have been broadened to include students who are the first members of their families to attend college, from families with little or no business education or experience, or from colleges whose graduates do not typically attend top-tier urban universities. While the program has not expanded, the list of racial or ethnic groups served by it has. As of last summer, 8 percent of its participants were Asian-Americans, 4 percent were white, and 1 percent were classified as "other." A spokesman for the business school, David R. Lampe, says, "Our feeling is that we have retained the original objective, which is to attract people who would traditionally not attend business schools, and to attract the best students that we can."

Saint Louis University

In 2004, under pressure from the U.S. Education Department's Office for Civil Rights, administrators at Saint Louis University disbanded a program that had annually awarded 30 scholarships of $11,000 a year solely to black students. They replaced it with a larger program that awards scholarships of $8,000 per year to students of any race or ethnicity who demonstrate leadership potential and show a commitment to promoting the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s vision of a diverse but unified nation. John M. Baworowsky, the university's vice president for enrollment and academic services, says the program's administrators also consider whether applicants will help make the campus more diverse.

Of the 77 sophomores who were selected for such scholarships as freshmen, one is American Indian, 16 are Asian-American, 32 are black, 10 are Hispanic, and 18 are white. Of the 159 members of the current freshman class who received scholarships, two are Alaska Natives, 19 are Asian-American, 57 are black, 29 are Hispanic, 45 are white, and seven are classified as "other." Mr. Baworowsky says the new scholarship program "has helped make our student body more national," taking in students from California, Hawaii, Texas, and other states that generally have not been represented in the student body. The share of the university's students coming from the St. Louis metropolitan area has dropped from about 60 percent to about 40 percent. For next year, it plans to cap the number of new scholarships at 100 but increase the awards to $13,000.

Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction

From 1985 until 2004, Wisconsin's Minority Precollege Scholarship Program provided money for minority students in grades six through 12 to attend precollege courses at campuses across the state. Under pressure from the federal Office for Civil Rights, the State Department of Public Instruction altered the eligibility criteria to eliminate any consideration of ethnicity or race, and instead limited participation to students whose low family incomes qualified them for federal school-lunch subsidies. The overall size of the program remained the same.

Of the 1,366 students who took part last summer, 65, or just under 5 percent, were white. Kevin Ingram, who directs the state agency's Educational Opportunity Programs, says that as a result of the changed eligibility criteria, the precollege program now serves "more kids who are more needy" and no longer enrolls young people from financially well-off families "who are participating just because they are minority students."