Race and ethnicity

San Francisco State finds evidence that ethnic studies students do better

San Francisco State University students graduate at higher rates when they pass ethnic studies courses, but not everyone agrees on what this means.


Minority-serving colleges top peers in economic mobility, report finds


Lower-income students who attend minority-serving colleges are more likely to move up in economic status, according to a new report, despite the fact that those colleges tend to have less money.


KIPP charter school alumni more likely to report 'sense of belonging' at HBCUs

New findings show Knowledge Is Power Program alumni who attend historically black colleges are more likely to report a “sense of belonging” and good mental health than those who attend other colleges.


Half of black student loan borrowers default, new federal data show

Half of all black students who took out federal student loans defaulted in 12 years, according to two analyses of new federal data on student borrowers.


A legal case about Mexican-American studies demonstrates why scholars must be publicly engaged (essay)

There is an old adage that scholars should simply “let the numbers speak for themselves.” But numbers have never told their own stories, and “disinterested” academics have never simply reported on phenomena without interpreting the data. The world’s best scientists, social scientists and humanists have long considered how their scholarship fits into, and might even change, contemporary society. We are proud that our academic field of Mexican-American studies in particular continues to stress a commitment to publicly engaged scholarship.

That commitment has been on display in places like Arizona for years. A few weeks ago, a more than decade-long fight in Tucson ended when a federal judge ruled that the law used to ban Mexican-American studies from the public secondary school curriculum was both created and enforced with anti-Mexican-American racial animus. This is the most high-profile ethnic studies case in the history of the United States, and we were privileged to serve as the three expert witnesses offered by the plaintiffs in support of Tucson’s program.

The first round of evidence came from Nolan Cabrera and co-authors at the University of Arizona, examining the programmatic efficacy of the Mexican-American studies program. They empirically demonstrated that students who took these courses were more likely to pass their state standardized tests after initial failure and were more likely to graduate from high school than their peers not in the program. This showed that state pressure to disband the program caused unconscionable and unlawful educational harm by removing this promising opportunity from its students -- in particular, Mexican-American students.

The second round of evidence came from Angela Valenzuela of the University of Texas at Austin, who established ethnic studies curricula as legitimate forms of education grounded in generations of scholarship and practice. She demonstrated to the court that Tucson’s disbanded Mexican-American studies program had represented a sound approach to K-12 education, that it was not the hodgepodge the state tried to portray and that the program’s educators were skillful and thoughtful teachers.

Finally, Stephen Pitti of Yale University provided evidence that the history of anti-Mexican-American racism in the Southwest shaped 21st-century debates about Mexican-American studies. He told the court that Arizona policy makers who attacked the program used racial code words to galvanize support from white Arizonans who feared the state’s “Mexicanization.” Racial animus, he emphasized, played a key role in the elimination of the Mexican-American studies program.

Our collective testimony identified the contours and nuances of how certain policies of the state of Arizona limited opportunities and racially discriminated against the Mexican-American community in Tucson. To reach this end as expert witnesses, we worked hard to share our academic expertise in ways that would be helpful to the court and to put our scholarly training at the service of the judicial process.

But it was challenging. Testimonies took many hours to prepare. Each expert report had to be meticulously argued and produced in a short amount of time. The trial preparation was grueling, and testifying proved both exhausting and nerve-racking. In addition, for Cabrera, it involved testifying against the same state that employs him, in a racially hostile environment.

We were impressed by the broad public interest in the educational and political issues discussed throughout the trial, and we took heart in knowing that many other Mexican-American studies scholars have worked on past civil rights cases related to education, voting rights, immigration and much more. We are proud to work in an academic field in which generations of scholars have worked to inform -- and at times, even shift -- public policy and discourse.

The numbers never speak for themselves, and we were gratified beyond measure when Judge A. Wallace Tashima ruled that “the state of Arizona acted contrary to the Constitution of the United States” by eliminating Tucson’s Mexican-American studies program. Many in the Tucson community -- educators, students and others -- had already reached a similar conclusion, but we are pleased that our efforts as scholars also played a role in overturning the unconstitutional elimination of this successful educational program.

Such involvement is crucial for academics. Some people mistakenly think that the case in which we involved had ramifications exclusively for K-12 education. But it’s important to understand that there are those who would eliminate ethnic studies programs in colleges and universities as well. During the move to ban Mexican-American studies in the Tucson Unified School District, the state superintendent of public instruction, John Huppenthal, also wanted to use his position to eliminate Mexican-American studies at the University of Arizona.

Earlier this year, Republican State Representative Bob Thorpe of Flagstaff tried to outlaw university offerings in the state that involved social justice, which would likely have included ethnic studies programs. In other words, this is part of a larger assault on critical multiculturalism, and institutions of higher education are not immune. In fact, they may very well be the next targets.

In these trying times, it is to our detriment that we as academics often remain cloistered in our ivory towers. The work that we do has great value to society at large, and it is incumbent upon us to make the case for that value and then to act on it.

Nolan L. Cabrera is an associate professor in the Center for the Study of Higher Education at the University of Arizona. Stephen Pitti is a professor of American studies, history, and ethnicity, race and migration at Yale University. Angela Valenzuela is a professor in the educational policy and planning program within the department of educational administration at the University of Texas at Austin; she also holds a courtesy appointment in the cultural studies in education program within the department of curriculum and instruction at the university.

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Judge A. Wallace Tashima
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Tommy Curry discusses new book on how critical theory has ignored realities of black maleness

Tommy Curry, the philosopher at Texas A&M whose comments on race set off a furor, discusses his new book on how critical theory has ignored the realities of black maleness.


Community colleges step up outreach to Latinos

Two-year institutions across the country are getting creative with Latino student recruitment as Hispanic populations grow.


More people enroll in college even with rising price tag, report finds

The Commission on the Future of Undergraduate Education releases its first report, using data to lay out a broad picture of students at today's two- and four-year colleges.


Studies show continued racial gaps in educational attainment and public ambivalence about the issue


New study documents continuing gaps (and some progress) in educational attainment of black and Latino students compared to white and Asian students. Another study suggests most people aren’t that worried about the issue.


The Supreme Court made the right decision on Fisher (essay)

The U.S. Supreme Court finally drove a stake through the heart of the discredited claim by Abigail Fisher, a white student, that she was illegally discriminated against in her unsuccessful application in 2008 to the University of Texas at Austin.

Yesterday’s decision in Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin let stand the trial court and Fifth Circuit opinions that had held she was treated fairly in her application. She was not admissible to the university through the top 10 percent plan that accords automatic admission to Texas high school students who graduate near the top of their classes. Nor was she admissible through special admissions full-file reviews. And it should be noted that, although whites constitute less than one-third of all K-12 enrollments in Texas, they make up more than half the students admitted to the university through either of these pathways.

Both the percent plan and the full-file review are nonracial approaches to admissions, and the court’s 2003 ruling in Grutter v. Bollinger held that an educational institution could consider an applicant’s race if it did so through such means. Why would UT be the only institution in the country ineligible to follow Grutter?

Fisher’s claim, which did not challenge the percent plan directly, still tried to have it both ways. Even if I cannot be admitted through a nonracial percent plan program, she was basically saying, and even if I am not qualified to be admitted through the discretionary option, I must have been denied my rightful place by less qualified students of color. This entitlement argument is the dictionary-perfect example of a claim of white privilege.

In yesterday’s ruling, the court held: “Considerable deference is owed to a university in defining those intangible characteristics, like student body diversity, that are central to its identity and educational mission.” At the same time, it called on UT to regularly evaluate data and consider student experience in order to “tailor its approach in light of changing circumstances, ensuring that race plays no greater role than is necessary to meet its compelling interest. The university’s examination of the data it has acquired in the years since petitioner’s application, for these reasons, must proceed with full respect for the constraints imposed by the Equal Protection Clause. The type of data collected, and the manner in which it is considered, will have a significant bearing on how the university must shape its admissions policy to satisfy strict scrutiny in the years to come.”

No admissions policy since 1978’s Regents of the University of California v. Bakke decision has prompted as much study and data analysis as has this series of cases and Fisher’s claim. And as with any comprehensive admissions policy, it will certainly continue to be evaluated.

This case has threatened to become like Dickens’s Jarndyce v. Jarndyce, dragging on for generations, but it is now time to move on. That is what I do when I lose cases, as in today’s disappointing Texas v. U.S. that allows a Brownsville federal judge’s improvident injunction of President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals and Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents programs. I will live to fight another day on this case, and Abigail Fisher and her lawyers should also give it a rest.

This decision restores constitutional order to college admissions, and the court should stop accepting such false claims. The last time a minority applicant of color successfully challenged admissions practices was, ironically, Sweatt v. Painter, more than 65 years ago, when the court examined and struck down the racial exclusion then practiced by the same institution.

Finally, through too many twists and turns, this applicant and her supporters have in essence laid a claim to minority status, even as their numbers belie any disadvantage. Fortunately, the court saw through to the truth of the matter. Affirmative action lives on, for now.

Michael A. Olivas is the Bates Distinguished Chair in Law at the University of Houston Law Center, where he teaches immigration law and higher education law, and interim president of the University of Houston Downtown. He was a consultant to the late Texas State Representative Irma Rangel, whose leadership led to the original percentage plan at the University of Texas.

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