Academic journal article The Journal of Negro Education

Gender and Racial/ethnic Differences in the Affirmative Action Attitudes of U.S. College Students

Academic journal article The Journal of Negro Education

Gender and Racial/ethnic Differences in the Affirmative Action Attitudes of U.S. College Students

Article excerpt

Most of the literature on affirmative action focuses on European American adults' opposition to it. This study extends that focus by investigating gender and racial/ethnic differences in college students' support for affirmative action in higher education. Multivariate analysis of data from a diverse sample (N = 290) found greater differences along racial/ethnic than gender lines. European and Asian American students expressed greater opposition to affirmative action; African and Hispanic American students were more supportive. Asian Americans shared with Whites racerelated orientations that predisposed them to their oppositional views. Hispanics shared orientations with African Americans that predisposed their support of affirmative action. The need to clarify the multiracial/ethnic context of the debate over higher education affirmative action is supported.

INTRODUCTION

Higher education in the United States currently exists in a state of paradox. On the one hand, U.S. institutions of higher education want to appear to be strongly egalitarian. Yet, the nation's colleges and universities have played a significant role in historically discriminating against women, Blacks, and other people of color (Altbach, 1991; Anderson, 1988; Darder, Torres, & Gutierrez, 1997). These institutions continue to struggle with how to become more liberal, inclusive, and tolerant of women and racial/ethnic minorities. For their part, African Americans overwhelmingly have considered a college degree to be an important vehicle for self-determination and upward social mobility (Anderson, 1988). Blacks have been as determined as any other racial / ethnic group to struggle through societal barriers to achieve the American dream of equal opportunity and success through education and hard work (Feagin, Vera, & Imani, 1996). Despite this strong determination, Black students are not promised that the fruits of their preparation and hard work will be realized on majority White college campuses without having to endure a hostile racial climate. Black students often report a sense of insensitivity among Whites toward the issue of student diversity. They also often indicate the belief that their racial and cultural backgrounds are invalidated by White students, faculty, administrators, and staff on traditionally White college campuses (Feagin et al., 1996; Smith, 1998). However, as Smith (1996) contends, when the campus environment is racially hostile, or specifically antiBlack, learning for all students becomes impaired, and the overall educational process may stall or cease.

During the 1980s and 1990s, college and university campuses in the U.S. have been plagued with incidents of racial intolerance toward Blacks, race-targeted programs, and multicultural curricula (Botstein, 1991; Feagin et al., 1996). More recently, legislation and official enactments have caused higher education to move away from its commitment to affirmative action and racially targeted programs. When these types of programs are threatened or eliminated, the college transition, retention, and performance patterns of African and Hispanic American students are jeopardized (Gossman, Dandridge, Nettles, & Thoeny, 1983). Two decades of research has supported the contention that both African American (Altbach, 1991; Babbit, Burbach, & Thompson, 1975; Jones, Harris, & Hauck, 1975) and Hispanic American (Burbach & Thompson, 1971; Munoz, 1986; Olivas, 1986) college students face greater academic difficulty, financial hardship, social isolation, and cultural conflicts. These academic and non-academic stressors are critical variables in the higher risks for Black and Hispanic retention and performance problems at traditionally White institutions of higher education (TWIs). Hence, beyond preparing themselves for the academic rigors of higher education, Black and Hispanic students must also cope with non-academic sources of stress in the TWI environment noted by Pascarella and Terenzini (1991) and Sedlacek (1988, 1991, 1993, 1995). …

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