Minority Representation in Higher Education: The Impact of Population Heterogeneity

By Mentzer, Marc S. | Journal of Higher Education, July-August 1993 | Go to article overview

Minority Representation in Higher Education: The Impact of Population Heterogeneity


Mentzer, Marc S., Journal of Higher Education


The impact of population composition on phenomena of racial relations has intrigued scholars for generations, yet in the U.S. context, such research has focused disproportionately on the issue of black-white relations. As U.S. racial diversity increases, bilateral models of race relations are being replaced by multilateral approaches. This study applies one such multilateral model, Blau's |1~ theory of heterogeneity, to the issue of student admissions in higher education -- a situation in which racial groups vie for limited resources (that is, school admissions) in a relatively visible and publicized forum.

An example of this is the controversy over admissions to state-related universities in California, which is one of the most racially diverse states. Here, the controversy has changed from one of bilateral (white-black) competition to one of multilateral competition, in which minority groups perceive other minority groups (not whites) to be their main competitor. Two universities that have been frequently mentioned in this regard are UCLA and UC-Berkeley, in which black interests have been perceived to conflict with those of Asian Americans |5, 8, 9~. In those situations, an approach to admissions based solely on test scores and high-school grades would cause blacks to lose admissions spots to Asian Americans. Conversely, an approach of allocating admissions by race leads to Asian Americans being denied admission merely because they are in a racial group that is already well represented in those universities. Admissions officials are thus in a "no-win" position, because any admissions policy will be considered prima-facie discrimination by one group or the other. In other words, one minority group's notion of political justice conflicts with another minority group's notion of merit, yet both groups enjoy special protection under the law.

Some members of Congress have even charged that unofficial quotas exist against Asian Americans at certain universities |9~. This sort of multi-racial conflict which pits minority groups against one another can occur anywhere in the United States where there are more than two racial groups; California's dilemma may be a precursor of what other states will face in the near future as their populations become more racially diverse.

The notion that racial composition of a population affects the degree of discrimination is a proposition with a long pedigree. For example, in 1908 Stone |13~ noted that whites can afford to behave benignly toward a minority when it forms a very small and decreasing proportion of the population. Stone concluded that white hostility toward blacks was greater than toward other U.S. minorities because as blacks increase in number, they pose a greater threat to white dominance with increased anti-black discrimination as the result. According to Stone, minorities that are small and/or decreasing in number experience less discrimination from whites; his examples in 1908 were Chinese-Americans and native Hawaiians.

Numerous studies have pursued the hypothesis that "percent black" determines the degree of discrimination. Wilcox and Roof |17~ in a review of the literature concluded that there is such a relationship within the South of the United States but not in its other regions.

The impact upon whites of a high proportion of blacks is complex. If blacks are in the lower socioeconomic levels, opportunities for high-status whites are improved. Low-status whites, however, are hurt by a large black presence because segregationist norms make it difficult for low-status whites and blacks to join forces through labor unions or political movements |17~. Thus, a large black presence will lead to the widest income gap between high- and low-status whites; in other words, a large minority population leads to a large standard deviation in income among whites |14~.

The United States, of course, includes racial minorities other than blacks. …

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Minority Representation in Higher Education: The Impact of Population Heterogeneity
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