Although critics claim affirmative action measures in college admissions give minority students an unfair advantage over their white counterparts, such policies have done little to change the complexion of the University of Wisconsin’s student body, which is 85 percent white.
While the admissions office does consider an applicant’s race and ethnicity as part of a holistic review process, along with a host of other factors, UW remains a largely white campus, according to a UW Office of the Registrar Ethnic Report.
These figures have remained relatively constant over time. In 2003, the percentage of total minority students that were admitted was 62.4 whereas 50.7 were admitted in 2013.
Last month, the Project on Fair Representation launched a campaign looking for plaintiffs to sue the university for discriminating against applicants based on race.
Santiago Chavez, a sophomore at UW and scholar in the Powers-Knapp Scholarship Program, said his place at the university is not defined by the color of his skin.
“My racial background should not be the explanation for why I am here,” Chavez said. “It is just really disheartening when someone thinks I took the place of a more deserving white person.”
In a previous interview with The Badger Herald, Edward Blum, director of the Project on Fair Representation, said he believes the consideration of race as a factor is fundamentally unfair and opposes the original principles of the Civil Rights Movement, such as the idea that race should not be counted against or in favor of a person.
Gloria Ladson-Billings, a UW School of Education professor and assistant vice chancellor of academic affairs, said the root of the concern over affirmative action is based on the misconception that white students are losing spots at universities to minority students.
“It is important to not merely isolate affirmative action policy but to put it in the larger context of a narrative of fear that suggests that some people are advancing that ‘should not be advancing’ while others are ‘losing ground,‘” Ladson-Billings said. “Unfortunately this narrative does not look at the demographic reality.”
U.S. News and World Report published a list of 254 national universities scored on ethnic diversity last year. UW’s student body, without international students, is 0.4 percent whiter than the rest of Wisconsin.
With 83.2 percent of its domestic students categorized as white, UW shares a four-way tie on that list for 206th with the University of Tennessee, the University of Cincinnati and the University of Missouri.
UW also ranks near the bottom of diversity in the Big Ten, Ladson-Billings said.
“Nebraska is more diverse than UW. Thus, the scrutiny cannot be just about diversity because the numbers don’t seem to warrant the concern,” Ladson-Billings said.
Many flagship state universities have similar numbers of white students in comparison to their state demographics. North Carolina and Texas’ non-international student bodies are 6.5 and 9.4 percent whiter than their states, respectively.
The Project on Fair Representation has also targeted both of those schools after recently launching a campaign against the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill and winning Fisher v. University of Texas in the U.S. Supreme Court last year.
Students at UW said they value in being exposed to different cultures when they have the opportunity. Alejandro Delgado, a UW sophomore in the Powers-Knapp Program, said when a university actively seeks out diversity, it allows different perspectives to come together to make stronger ideas.
Alex Arriaga contributed reporting to this article.