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Race: Are we so different

A blog looking at the changing face of race around our region, created in cooperation with Pacific Science Center, the University of Washington Department of Communication and the City of Seattle Race and Justice Initiative

December 22, 2013 at 6:30 AM

Race project | The reality of race in UW admissions

Editor’s note: This is the last of five blog posts taking a deeper look at the racial disparities in our communities, from education to juvenile crime and homelessness. Read more.

Grace Campbell, a senior at the University of Washington, checked the Hispanic box on her application to the university and thinks that gave her a nudge up that she would not have gotten by listing herself as Caucasian.

What Campbell doesn’t know is that her race was not considered by UW admissions. In 1998, Initiative 200 was passed in the state, banning racial quotas. Since then, UW has not considered race, ethnicity, or national origin in admissions.

The racial diversity at UW has changed little since then even though the university has worked to increase the diversity of those who apply. There has been an increase in the percentage of students who identify as Hispanic each year, but that likely reflects the demographic of graduating high-school seniors in the state, said Mark Long, a research affiliate of the Center for Studies in Demography and Ecology and associate professor at the UW.

Research has shown that recruiting efforts have not dramatically paid off, Long said. The numbers tell the same story: the percentage of minority students who have enrolled at the UW after being accepted has either gradually declined or remained unchanged over the last decade.

Sheila Lange, vice provost for diversity and minority affairs, said that while the percentage of enrolled minority students has remained essentially the same, the university has seen an increase in minority applicants. The university continues to work on convincing those who are accepted to take the next step and enroll.

Recruiting begins as early as elementary school and continues with precollege programs and through supporting community organizations that work to prepare kids to apply to college. Workshops, gatherings where prospective students meet current students and hosted campus visits are also used to “build the pool” of applicants, said Lange and other UW officials.

“Recruitment and outreach is the best tool the University of Washington has to maintain or increase the number of underrepresented students,” said Paul Seegert, UW director of admissions.

But even though the pool of diverse applicants has grown, UW sees fewer minorities accepting offers of admission, the data shows.

At the same time, students say they aren’t sure what they are supposed to do — push for calling out their minority status or not — and they are confused as to whether it helps them at all.

Campbell is not alone in believing that her Hispanic background gave her a higher priority. Micaela Gomez, another UW senior who noted her Hispanic ethnicity when applying, also thinks that it played a role in her admittance to the university.

Campbell and Gomez said they also were admitted into UW’s Educational Opportunity Program (EOP) upon acceptance to the UW. Gomez says that she was given a personal adviser and access to the instructional center as perks for being Hispanic. Those programs and opportunities add to the confusion surrounding the role of race in admissions, they said.

“(Students) expect everything else to be used in their application so it’s not surprising to me that they would think race is being used,” Long said.

Jasmine Healy is a senior studying journalism and biology at the University of Washington.
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| Topics: admissions, Race, racial disparity

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