Study Examines the Efficacy of Racial Quotas
Research conducted by an Emory professor has concluded that the use of racial quotes is simpler and more transparent than affirmative action policies. The study comes at a time when the constitutionality of AA policies are being debated in United States Supreme Court.
Andrew Francis, an associate professor in Emory’s economics department, spearheaded a study in the Journal of Human Resources this year that found that the use of racial quotas in undergraduate admissions at the University of Brasilia has increased the number of black students they have admitted.
In Brazil, prospective college students apply directly to the departments that house their intended majors. Then they take entrance exams for the university to which they are applying. The scores that students receive on these exams determine whether they are accepted to both the university and the department where they want to major. The University of Brasilia implemented its racial quota system in 2004, whereby the university reserves 20 percent of spaces available for each of its majors to the most qualified students who also self-identify as black, according to Francis.
Supreme Court judges heard arguments last week in Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin (UT Austin), a case in which Abigail Fisher — a white woman — claimed that UT Austin denied her admissions due to her race, which did not qualify her for affirmative action policies. The rulings could render such statutes illegal in the U.S, and could have implications for Emory’s admission policies.
According to Dean of Undergraduate Admissions John Latting, the Fisher v. UT Austin case has not been a subject of conversation in the Emory Office of Admission due to the fact that it could yield many possible outcomes. The Office of Admission will wait to make adjustments to their own admissions guidelines once the Supreme Court decides the case.
“I think that universities should aspire to be world class,” he said. “If that means paying attention to and being aware of people’s backgrounds, including race and ethnicity, I think that’s part of the broader agenda of excellence.”
Noting that he felt minority students accepted by Emory typically succeed in college, Latting also commented that the ability to attract students from a variety of places and backgrounds is part of what makes an excellent university.
He explained that the Office of Admission acknowledges Emory’s mission to remain a diverse community when it reviews applicants’ materials. For example, while recruiting prospective students, the Office tries to reach parts of the country where students generally do not know about Emory.
The Brazilian Supreme Court also recently examined the constitutionality of racial quota systems. They ruled in favor of these systems, allowing the Brazilian federal government to enact more racial quotas.
In addition to their simplicity, Francis said Brazil’s racial quotas were ideal to study because their recent implementation allowed Francis and his co-author from the University of Brasilia to examine data from both before and after the university enacted the policies.
They interviewed students who entered the university between 2003 and 2005, and combined their findings with the data from the university. The university’s data included grades and admissions scores for all students accepted and rejected during the same time period as well as a socioeconomic survey which applicants completed, Francis said.
The study found that any racial gaps in college academic performance were the result of racial disparities in education prior to college.When the study compared students that would not have gotten in to the university without the racial quotas to the students who would have gotten in to the university without them, the study found that the students who did get in were from families with lower socioeconomic status.
The study also discovered that racial quotas encouraged some students to misrepresent their racial identity, in addition to finding that students with the darkest skin were more likely to identify as black after the implementation of the quotas.
Francis said that a panel of 12 Brazilians rated 200-800 photographs of students based on their skin tones. He then sorted the pictures into percentiles based on these ratings.
The second darkest-skinned 20 percent of students were more likely to identify as black when applying to college, but not during their interviews, which Francis said indicated they were trying to use the racial quota system to their advantage.
The darkest-skinned 20 percent of students, on the other hand, were more likely to identify as black in both cases, which was more of a believable outcome, according to Francis.
Ultimately, Francis said he thought it was important that someone completed a study on racial quotas. When schools first began implementing racial policies, many people opposed them without any data or evidence of what effect they would have.
“I’m happy to provide empirical evidence on what aspects of the policy were working,” he said. “I hope the results will help to craft public policies that can effectively address the problem of racial inequality.”
— By Elizabeth Howell