Can the Dream Be Saved?
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — The University of Virginia’s Board of Visitors announced earlier this month that race will continue to be considered in the school’s admissions process. The board also said it supports President John T. Casteen III’s decision several months ago to end the use of a point system that benefited African American applicants in the admissions process. Observers say the change in this practice could serve as a deterrent to anti-affirmative action advocates like the Center for Individual Rights, which has pursued legal challenges to the race-sensitive admissions practices of other institutions, namely the University of Texas Law School and the University of Michigan. While some at the University of Virginia had been pressing for an end to the consideration of race altogether, many Black students hold a dissenting view. Their demonstration in support of affirmative action at the Virginia vs. Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University football game earlier this month provided dramatic evidence of the Black presence at the school.“This has had a psychological impact on African American students,” says Dr. M. Rick Turner, UVA’s dean of African American Affairs. The football stadium protest was especially important, he says, for students who are struggling with self doubt. “They look at affirmative action as a badge of shame.” Turner says the full impact of the actions taken by the board and Casteen won’t become known until next fall, when the class of 2004 enters. Still, he says there is optimism about the future of diversity at UVA. “I have no reason to doubt Jack Blackburn and other officials within the admissions department,” he says. “I asked them, ‘what does this mean?’ They said it gives them more leeway to accept African American students.” “I am delighted with what [the board] did,” says Blackburn, UVA’s dean of admission. “[The] philosophy is that race is an important factor.”The National Collegiate Athletic Association’s six-year retention statistics show that Virginia has the highest Black student retention rate of any Division I, public university in the country (see Black Issues, Oct. 14).Below is the official statement released by the UVA Board of Visitors on Oct. 16: “The Board of Visitors unanimously endorses the university’s continuing commitment to recruiting and enrolling students of diverse talents and backgrounds. It also supports the changes made by the president in the university’s undergraduate admission system. The admission system considers each applicant on the basis of his or her merits, in an equitable manner and in accordance with the law. “Every student admitted under our policies is qualified to attend. Each one deserves the finest education we can offer. By any measure, the university boasts one of the strongest student bodies in American higher education. Its students graduate on time and on track at higher rates than those at all but a handful of institutions. The academic successes of its African American and other minority students are the envy of every major university. The system works. We are prepared to defend it.“Cultivating diversity within the university community takes commitment, but brings indisputable benefits. The board and the administration consider maintaining diversity a top priority now and in the years to to come.” — by Cheryl D. Fields
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