Racial Ideology and Affirmative Action Support in a Diverse College Student Population

By Smith, William A. | The Journal of Negro Education, Fall 2006 | Go to article overview

Racial Ideology and Affirmative Action Support in a Diverse College Student Population


Smith, William A., The Journal of Negro Education


A more complex racial climate has emerged at historically White colleges and universities (HWCUs). Assessing and understanding students' racial ideologies and beliefs about affirmative action diversity policies and programs are important in pursuing racial and gender justice and equity. This article examined explanations for opposition to curriculum diversity initiatives and race-targeted programs in higher education across a multi-racial/ethnic student cohort (N = 293). Analyses from a regression model of junior-year student data found the greatest predictor of differences in curriculum diversity initiatives or race-targeted programs were students' race and reactionary racism ideology, which is a negative, reactionary sentiment that social changes to Blacks ' demands have "gone too far." Generally, Whites and Asians were least supportive of curriculum diviersity initiatives or programs. Implications of students ' racial ideologies are discussed.

A hopeful note in this first decade of the 21st century is the unprecedented racial and ethnic diversity among U.S. college students. Both African American and Latina/o high school students are graduating and attending college in greater numbers than previous generations (Harvey & Anderson, 2005). In this article, African American and Blacks are used interchangeably. Additionally, any form of the reference to people or students of color refers to Asian Pacific American, Native American, Black, and Latina/o people as a collective group. Latina/o youth are the second largest racial/ethnic group in their age cohort in the nation, and they continue to expand their presence on campus (Hurtado, 2002). Postsecondary institutions are also witnessing a growing number of Asian American students who are achieving greater representation in a broader range of academic majors and occupations than ever before (Harvey & Anderson, 2005). This representation of racial and ethnic diversity brings many new challenges, conversations, expectations, and demands to traditional ways of thinking, engaging, or viewing the educational process.

Despite growing opposition to affirmative action efforts, numerous studies (e.g., Chang, 1999; Hurtado, 2002; Villalpando, 2002) refute the racial polarization propagandists who argue that diversity planning and race-targeted policies in the curricula and campus infrastructure are an "illiberal education" (D'Souza, 1991). These propagandists maintain that Blacks' demands have "gone too far" and are now "disuniting" America (Schlesinger, 1992). According to Sander (2004), faulty affirmative action attempts in admissions are adversely affecting African American students, who are being admitted to schools more challenging academically than they are prepared for, and where they compete against "better qualified" White students. In the midst of these debates, a complex racial ideology has emerged on college campuses that has produced a growing ambivalence about affirmative action efforts. Forman (2004) maintained that White students and a small but growing number of students of color are placing an emphasis on "color-blindness," which allows Whites to be comforted by the idea that all races are now on a level playing field. According to Forman, Whites with this ideology do not recognize the advantages they have reaped from years of inequality. Consequently, they tend to respond apathetically toward others who "erroneously" support affirmative action and social justice demands.

Therefore, the current campus climate includes both cynicism toward race-targeted efforts and a growing emphasis on the positive influence that a multicultural environment offers for student interaction and their post-college experiences (Smith, 1998; Villalpando, 2002). Villalpando (2002) proposed that when proactive diversity planning is made a top priority all students benefit. In a longitudinal study, he examined the differential impact of college diversity initiatives on African American, Asian American, Latina/o, and European American college students.

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