THE UNIVERSITY OF WASHINGTON ALUMNI MAGAZINE
THE ROAD AHEAD
The UW has a solid foundation to build on. In recent years, it has done better representing the ethnic mix of its state's population than nearly all of its peer universities. When differences for state demographics are taken into consideration, the UW has been far more representative than UCLA, Cal-Berkeley or the flagship public universities in states such as Illinois, North Carolina and Oregon (see chart).
In 1997, the UW student body was 27 percent minority, compared with 17 percent in the state as a whole. However, these figures can be misinterpreted. Asian Americans enroll at the UW in far greater numbers than their representation in the state. Nineteen percent of the UW student body is Asian American, compared with 6 percent of the state population, according to census figures. When Asian American students are removed from the equation, black, Hispanic and Native American students make up 8 percent of the UW student body. Those same three groups make up 11 percent of the state population.
Keeping those levels will be a challenge. "We have to come up with a new admissions policy," says Apilado. "Exactly what that will look like won't be known for a while. But maintaining diversity will be a problem."
Scott Smith, a former Republican state representative from Puyallup who sponsored the initiative, says there may be a slight drop at first, but he is confident trends will work out. "Initially you will see a drop in the number of minority students in the short term," he says. "But over the next couple of years, you will see the numbers level off. You will not see much change over the long haul.
"What you will see is students learning to be more competitive. People of color will say if they want to be the best and attend the best schools, then they must be competitive. It will take a while to get this into people's mindsets."
UW officials approach their new challenge hoping to avoid what happened to the University of California after the 1996 passage of Prop. 209, which ended affirmative action programs in that state.
Minority enrollment figures at Cal-Berkeley plummeted in 1997, the first year race wasn't used in admissions. The entering class of 3,735 included 51 percent fewer African Americans than the year before. The number of Latino freshmen dropped 43 percent and the number of Native American freshmen dropped 39 percent.
"The effect of Prop. 209 has been devastating," says William Lester, a Berkeley chemistry professor, who has watched the change in his classroom. Adds Bob Cole, an associate dean of law at Berkeley: "The morale here is terrible. It is very distressing." Students and faculty there held a two-day walkout in October to demand that Prop. 209 be reversed and affirmative action be reinstated.
Distressing numbers also turned up at UCLA, where the number of black, Hispanic and Native American admitted freshmen fell by 36 percent, from 2,066 in 1997 to 1,327. "There were not even enough black students to go on every floor of the dorms," laments Stacy Lee, president of UCLA's student government. That campus, too, has been the site of student demonstrations.
Understandably, the mood of students here has been edgy. On Dec. 2-the day before I-200 became law-200 students protesting the initiative blocked traffic on the Evergreen Point Floating Bridge for more than an hour. The protesters ended the day in President McCormick's office in Gerberding Hall, asking him to preserve minority outreach and tutoring programs.
"Are we going to be pushed out?" asks Cynthia Sim, a senior psychology major who was admitted through the University's Educational Opportunity Program (EOP), which for the past 30 years has provided educational opportunities to underrepresented minorities-and to economically and educationally disadvantaged students of any race. "What is going to happen to us?"
I-200 co-sponsor Smith says the students' concern is misplaced. Instead of waiting for "government to help them out," he says ethnic minority students ought to be "concerned over their own grades" and learn to help themselves. "It seems that academic institutions are afraid of competition," he explains. "But it is very competitive in the working world. Some people are scared of competition.
"Look, I-200 did not end affirmative action. It just makes everyone play by the same rules. Our colleges are not social institutions. They are academic institutions."
As of now, admissions is the only area immediately affected by I-200. All references to race and ethnicity have been removed from UW application forms. "That just means we have to find other ways to get a diverse community of students," says W.W. "Tim" Washburn, the UW's director of admissions. "Beyond grade point averages and test scores, we will look at students' educational disadvantages, socioeconomic status, residency in rural parts of the state, disabilities, special talents, whether parents went to college, cultural diversity and other factors.
"It will create a lot more work on our end, evaluating students. And it will mean applicants will have to focus a lot more on the personal essays they submit, because they will take on much more significance in the evaluation process."
"We are concerned," adds Jeffrey Hedgepeth, the director of the Business Educational Opportunity Program in the UW School of Business Administration. "We have worked hard over the years to beef up the number of ethnic students in the business school." A little more than 8 percent of the business school's 1,435 students are ethnic minorities.
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