Just more than 58 percent of students oppose the University’s consideration of race in student admissions decisions, while over 34 percent of students said they supported the policy, according to a recent Herald poll. Of the students who are opposed to the consideration of race, more than half support the consideration of an applicant’s socioeconomic status. Just over a quarter of students oppose the consideration of race, socioeconomic status or any other demographic factor in admission decisions.
Most students said their answers were tied to their beliefs about the University’s race-based affirmative action policy. Currently, the University considers an applicant’s race as a single factor among many – including grades, test scores and extracurricular activities - and does not weigh socioeconomic status in determining whether the applicant should be admitted to Brown.
The University’s diversity programs “redress historical patterns of exclusion and … foster opportunities to embrace the greatest mix of ideas, opinions, and beliefs so important to the achievement of academic excellence,” according to its webpage on institutional diversity.
Students who oppose the use of race in admission decisions but support using socioeconomic status as a factor in admission usually said race no longer plays a large enough part in American society to warrant the policy. Many of these students told The Herald they support nurturing a student body with diverse backgrounds, opinions and world views and that using socioeconomic status as an admission criterion would adequately serve this purpose.
“You can accomplish that same goal (of diversity) through socioeconomic class,” said Heath Mayo ’13, a Herald opinions columnist.
Proponents of a class-based affirmative action policy said the structural inequalities that exist in today’s society hurt lower-income families. The University should not “be playing a numbers game based on racial numbers,” said Justin Braga ’16, a member of the Brown Republicans. “We should be focused on the merit of one’s application.”
Braga defended the use of class in admissions, because “lower-income families are more likely to have gone to schools that don’t perform as well.” But attending an underperforming school does not disqualify one from getting into Brown, he added.
“I believe that you should judge someone based on their ability, not necessarily their knowledge base,” said Phil Denys ’15. “They might not have the same knowledge. They definitely could have the same ability.”
The use of race in admission “discriminates against people of other races that are disadvantaged just as much,” Denys said. Most opponents of racially-based affirmative action who spoke to The Herald agreed with him.
“We’re admitting wealthy minority students as opposed to minority students that really need the help,” Mayo said.
Supporters of race-based affirmative action disputed the claim that race – separate from the role of socioeconomic class - no longer acts as a barrier to advancement. Bryan Payton ’15 said he thinks “race should be a factor,” because “it is a factor in who is even able to apply to an Ivy League university in the first place.”
Payton said minority students have fewer opportunities to take Advanced Placement classes, while white students go to “better-prepared and better-funded schools.”
“Even people of color from middle-class backgrounds are much more likely to have the same poverty rates, or live in neighborhoods that don’t have as good schools,” Payton said.
Lydia Bennett GS, who was an admissions counselor for Colorado State University for three years, said she has seen firsthand the “very drastic” result of what happens “when race is considered and when race is not.”
“College admission continues to be a place for structural inequality to have a big influence on who gets in,” Bennett said. She cited SAT and ACT scores, which “measures your socioeconomic status more than your ability to succeed in college” as areas where wealthier, white students have an advantage over their less affluent, minority peers.
“Affirmative action is not about bringing in unqualified students,” Bennett said. “It’s about making sure the structural inequalities don’t keep out students who would otherwise get in.”
Supporters of race-based affirmative action often pointed to the University’s preferential treatment of legacy applicants and recruited athletes as real violations of its merit-based admissions process.
More than 40 percent of athletes oppose the consideration of any demographic factors in the admissions process, compared with 25 percent of the overall student body.
While not necessarily criticizing this preferential treatment, Payton presented these groups as demographics – like race – that “add a diverse array of perspectives to a University.”
“(People) like to go off this post-racial idea of this country, and we’re not there,” Payton said. “We’re not there at all.”
Many students expressed surprise that a majority of their peers opposed the use of race in admissions. “Thinking about Brown as stereotypically liberal, I would think more people would affirm race-based policies,” Mayo said.
Among the students interviewed for this article, none who opposed the use of both race and socioeconomic status in admissions agreed to go on record with their opinions.
“It’s an issue a lot of students have gone through themselves, so they’re more knowledgeable on the subject,” Denys said.
Many respondents said affirmative action often suffers from a “not in my backyard” mentality, where support for a liberal cause fades when those liberals supporting the cause are asked to sacrifice. “College admission is something they’ve actually been affected by,” Denys said.
A student’s view on the use of race in the admission process correlated with their race, according to poll results. Black students, who made up 9.2 percent of poll respondents, supported the use of race most heavily – 60 percent said they agreed with the University’s current policy.
Slightly more than half of Hispanic students agreed with the use of race in admissions. White students’ opinions reflected the overall student body’s view of the policy, with about a third favoring the use of race.
Only 16 percent of Asian students said they favored the use of race in admissions decisions - the least of any demographic group. But almost half favored consideration of socioeconomic status instead of race. The percent of Asian
students who oppose the use of both race and socioeconomic status was only slightly higher than average, at 30 percent.
These demographic breakdowns loosely correlate to affirmative action’s reported effects on each group. A study from the University of California at Los Angeles found that when affirmative action policies were suspended at public universities, admission rates rose for Asian students but fell for white, black and Hispanic students, The Herald reported in 2008.
Written questionnaires were administered to 959 undergraduates Oct. 17-18 in the lobby of J. Walter Wilson and the Stephen Robert ’62 Campus Center during the day and the Sciences Library at night. The poll has a 2.9 percent margin of error with 95 percent confidence. The margin of error is 9.0 percent for varsity athletes and 3.1 percent for non-athletes.
Find results of previous polls at thebdh.org/poll.