The Society for the
Study of Social Issues

Race Conscious College and University Admissions

11 October 2012*

The Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues (SPSSI) is an association of over 3000 scientists from psychology and related fields who share a common interest in the application of scientific research to public policy and social issues.

The following is a succinct selection of scientifically creditable resources for news reports and analysis pertaining to the US Supreme Court hearing, Fisher v. The University of Texas at Austin. The studies describe current issues in research on race conscious college admissions, and provide empirical evidence of how student diversity could be affected should the Supreme Court decision change affirmative action policy in US higher education institutions.

There are educational benefits of diversity in colleges and universities
Thinking and social skills often receive a boost in diverse environments, as can complex intellectual processing because it draws upon novel solutions and broader concepts.1 2  

There are personal and institutional benefits of diversity in colleges and universities
High rates of diversity on college campuses yield numerous benefits for the entire student body, for majority students as well as minority students. Diverse environments can relieve minority students of concerns about being evaluated on the basis of negative stereotypes, and can enhance their performance and feelings of inclusion and belonging.3 4    Conversely, where minority numbers are low, stereotyping is likely to be more prevalent and isolation can lead to both social and academic problems for minority students.5 6 

There are societal benefits of student diversity in colleges and universities
Benefits of student diversity also spill over into society at large.  Distinct leadership skills, social skills, and processes of civic engagement are developed in diverse college environments, and greater contact between diverse groups can reduce prejudice and promote trust. 7 8

Unconscious biases can lead to underinclusion of minorities
People from different racial and ethnic groups often show unconscious biases toward Whites over African Americans and other minority groups. In student admission processes and in employee selection decisions, this can lead to unintentional and unconscious underselection of racial and ethnic minorities.10 11

Race-neutral policies may not achieve adequate levels of diversity in colleges and universities
Poor white and Asian American students tend to have a higher GPA and perform better on tests than poor African Americans, Latinos, and American Indians.12  Affirmative action based on economic indexes does increase the number of African Americans and Hispanics on college campuses when compared to merit-based policies alone. However, this increase is less than the increase for race conscious admissions, and does not adequately reflect the share of college-eligible African American and Latino students in society overall.13


1. Engberg, M. E. & Hurtado, S. (2011). Developing Pluralistic Skills and Dispositions in College: Examining Racial/ Ethnic Group Differences,  Journal of Higher Education, 82(4), 416
2. Crisp, R. J. & Turner, R. N. (2011). Cognitive Adaptation to the Experience of Social and Cultural Diversity. Psychology Bulletin, 137, 242
3. Steele, C. M. (2010) Whistling Vivaldi: And Other Clues to How Stereotypes Affect Us. New York, NY: W W Norton
4. Purdie-Vaughns, V., Steele, C.M., Davies, P., Ditlmann, R.*, Randall Crosby, J. (2008). Identity contingency threat: How diversity cues signal threat or safety for African-Americans in mainstream settings. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 94(4), 615-630.
5. Chang, M. J., Eagan, M. K., Lin, M. H.,  & Hurtado, S. (2011). Considering the Impact of Racial Stigmas and Science Identity: Persistence Among Biomedical and Behavioral Science Aspirants. Journal of Higher Education, 82, 564
6. Harper, S. R., & Hurtado, S. (2007). Nine themes in campus racial climates and implications for institutional transformation. In S. R. Harper, & L. D. Patton (Eds.), Responding to the realities of race on campus. New Directions for Student Services (No. 120, pp. 7-24). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
7. Gurin, P., Nagda, B. A., & Lopez, G. F. (2004). The benefits of diversity in education for democratic citizenship. Journal of Social Issues, 60(1), 17-34
8. Pettigrew, T. F., & Tropp, L. R. (2006). A meta-analytic test of intergroup contact theory. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 90(5), 751-783
9. Nosek., B. A., Smyth, F. L., Hansen, J. J., Devos, T., Lindner, N. M., Ranganath, K. A., Smith, C. T., Olson, K. R., Chugh, D., Greenwald, A. G., Banaji, M. R. (2007). Pervasiveness and correlates of implicit attitudes and stereotypes. European Review of Social Psychology, 18, 36-88.
10. Hodson, G., Dovido, J. F., & Gaertner, S. L. (2002). Processes in racial discrimination:  Differential weighting of conflicting information. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 28(4), 460-471
11. Purkiss, S., Perrewe, P. L., Gillespie, T. L., Mayes, B. T., Ferris, G. R. (2006).  Implicit sources of bias in employment interview judgments and decisions. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes 101(2), 152–167
12. Byrd, C., Reed, W., & Graves, E. (2011, September 25). Class-based policies are not a remedy for racial inequality. The Chronicle of Higher Education, Diversity in Academe, B36-37
13. Carnevale, A. P., & Rose, S. J. (2004). Socioeconomic status, race/ethnicity, and selective college admissions. In R. D. Kahlenberg (Ed.), America's untapped resource: low-income students in higher education (pp. 101-156). New York: Century Foundation Press


*This article was sent as a media advisory on October 9.

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