“We definitely cannot drop the goals of affirmative action”: a discussion with Dr. Carmen Neuberger, Gwendolyn J. Dungy and Joyce Smith – Panel Discussion

Countless studies have shown that what happens outside of classrooms
plays a crucial role in whether students attend college and continue in
college to graduation. High school guidance counselors, admissions
officers and campus student service officers all play a part in
matching the right student to the right campus and then making sure the
students feel a part of campus life.

The three organizations that represent professionals who provide
those services are headed by women who speak passionately about the
obligations of their professions to the recruitment and retention of
students of color in higher education.

What follows is part of a roundtable discussion they recently had
with Black Issues In Higher Education. Dr. Carmen Neuberger is
executive director of the American College Personnel Association.
Gwendolyn J. Dungy is executive director of the National Association of
Student Personnel Administrators. Joyce Smith is executive director of
National Association of College Admission Counselors.

How will the changes in affirmative action policies affect the way your members do their work?

Smith: It’s directly affecting our work [in admissions]. We have
always held a firm belief that affirmative action practices are needed
in the college transition process. As it pertains to students and their
opportunities for access, it will greatly affect the color and class of
who goes to college.

Dungy: There’s a sea change because of what’s going on in Texas and
California – and I’m not sure if it’s all negative. One positive piece
I see in relation to our members is that it will give them an
opportunity – not opportunity as much as an incentive – to really
develop partnerships between secondary schools and colleges.

What we’ve done often is we waited until they get to our door and
then we begin to work with students. But we have not taken as much
advantage as we need to take in helping faculty and helping counselors
work with students to prepare them for the admissions criteria they’ll
have to face. So, I think that is an opportunity.

We’ve got to have more creative ways of making sure of bringing kids
into the college who don’t necessarily do well on tests. We all know
that taking a test, getting a score on an exam, does not predict
necessarily who’s going to be successful.

I think our people are going to have to take their philosophy – the
idea that every student can learn and that one purpose of the
institution is to nurture students – and take that philosophy and try
to influence the rest of the college environment. But we also have
legislators and we have a public to deal with here.

A lot of people think [that] people who had been admitted under
affirmative action guidelines did not have the merit and I think that
they begin to lose sight of why we’re educating students. We’re
educating students to be responsible, we’re educating them to be part
of a democratic society. And I think our members – people who are in
admissions, people who are in student personnel – are the people to try
to educate about what our purposes are and the ideas.

Neuberger: I have to try to be optimistic as well to put the best
face we can on something that has really been tough. I think that there
are other ways. We definitely cannot drop the goals of affirmative
action, which are to increase students of color at institutions. I
believe we can do that, as the Department of Justice and [the]
Education Department has suggested, by looking at students from
deprived backgrounds.

But, we as an association are moving forward to implement
affirmative action. We do not feel the California decision or Texas
decision necessarily affects the rest of our states, and [those states]
feel very strongly that they still need to do what they need to do
until they’re told legally they can no longer do that. So, we have our
affirmative action goals for membership and we are continuing to
critically and progressively pursue those.

Smith: I would just offer that I think we’ve gotten caught in some
of the rhetoric about what affirmative action was supposed to address.
And of late, there seems to be more reference to addressing past
incidences of discrimination. But I think what people seem to be
feeling most comfortable with is calling it “diversity recruitment” or
“efforts to ensure diversity.”

Our association also has reaffirmed its support of affirmative
action in the college admissions process because we all know – [and]
California is our test case – if you take race and other kinds of
variables off of the college application, then you lose the ability to
attract disadvantaged students. We just have some huge challenges ahead
but I know our association has reaffirmed its position in support of
affirmative action in the college admissions process.

Dungy: NASPA has surveyed its members to see what assistance they
may need in light of the fact that there may be some retrenchment in
[the] commitment to affirmative action. So while NASPA remains
committed, it’s asking members what kind of professional development
they need.

The results were quite interesting. Almost all the people who
responded said that their institutions had no intent of backing off on
the goals of affirmative action, that they plan to still do this. And
as far as what members needed, they wanted to understand how they can
keep out of legal problems. How do we keep ourselves in place where we
don’t get involved in legal problems?

But I also must add that even though our associations as a whole
still affirm the goals of affirmative action, we also want to respect
those members who have different viewpoints. Every member in any
association probably does not agree.

Do you see schools changing the way they are going to recruit minority students?

Smith: I don’t know that any school is changing the way it recruits
minority students in that they still have it as a priority. They still
visit feeder schools. They still generally have materials that inform
prospective students about opportunities on campus.

But what concerns me is the changing use of technology and the
almost [over-abundant] amount of information that’s out there. U.S.
News & World Report, Newsweek, all these groups have rankings and
ratings [in their] publications – and I think they’re selling better
than the swimsuit editions of Sports Illustrated magazine. Do our
families buy those and do they understand how to interpret and use the
information?

We keep saying there’s more information on the World Wide Web. A lot
of schools in urban areas, [especially] secondary schools, don’t have
access to the Internet [and] don’t have computers. So they’re not
getting in on the CD-ROMs and the Internet and all those kinds of
things.

Increasingly, there are different tools that colleges are using to
inform families of students and counselors about their programs…. A
lot of families might see particular products. They may see [an
institution in] some of these magazines that are [listed as one of] the
top twenty-five colleges and [will have their children apply there]
thinking, “We better apply to these top twenty-five because this
magazine said that.” I would hope families don’t shop for colleges the
way they shop for cars.

Neuberger: One of the things that works very well is bringing high
school students into the college campus during the summer and for
special weekends with the idea of recruiting them from faraway places.
I think there’s a real challenge for colleges and universities to do
some different things.

Smith: There is a lack of sophistication about the nuances of trends
in college admissions. For example, when families read the Wall Street
Journal some time ago, they applied [for] early decision to college
campuses. I don’t know that a lot of minority families are in on the
trend and know what it’s about. And [I don’t know] that their
counselors are engaging them in a way so they’re informed about some of
the nuances [of the admissions process].

Dungy: I hasten to say colleges are changing the way they recruit
students. I think they have to change because even though they say they
are committed to the goals of affirmative action, they still won’t put
themselves in jeopardy. They won’t risk a lot.

The other thing that I have discovered is that many of the liberal
arts colleges and [the] most selective colleges [that] did not recruit
from the community colleges are now forming partnerships with community
colleges because a majority of students of color begin at community
colleges, [where] it’s affordable. So before when they said they didn’t
really need these students from community colleges, they do now if they
want to keep some diversity. So, I think it’s positive in that way.
It’s forcing them to form partnerships with community colleges in order
to develop that pipeline and that highway for the students to come from
the community college into four-year liberal arts and research
institutions.

Are you concerned about the growing trend of schools abandoning
need-blind admissions? How does the trend affect recruiting and
retention of students, especially minorities?

Smith: This was a big issue for our association. We have
traditionally, as part of our code of ethics, supported need-blind
admissions. And we had very serious discussions that almost tore us
apart as an organization because much was said that the admissions
office or the financial aid office alone does not dictate the budget
for financial aid.

To that end, there’s a certain level of autonomy on these kinds of
issues. We needed to step away as a professional association [from the
suggestion that] we could dictate [to our membership]. So mostly
because our high school members said – and I support the argument –
that college admissions should be based on the ability of the students
and not on the ability of the students to pay. [However,] as an
organization, within our code of ethics, we’ve had to move away from
that as something we try to enforce [and look at it] as something [of
an] ideal. We would hope that colleges would hold that concept as the
ideal, but increasingly, because of their lack of control [over]
budgets for financial aid and things like that, they’ve increasingly
had to take it into consideration the families’ ability to pay.

Neuberger: In the past, financial aid has been very much a part of
the student affairs area because we worry about students retaining
their financial aid and worry that it’s not used simply as a
recruitment tool. [Needs blind admission] has been a wonderful way to
assure that by separating the two.

Dungy: We’re asking colleges to do a couple of things here. We’re
asking them to keep the cost of tuition down and then we’re expecting
them to have need-blind admissions, which means they have to subsidize
and discount and give financial aid. Somewhere along the line, we have
to understand that there is a reality here at the point where
something’s going to give. But we’ve got to make sure that students are
not turned away because their parents cannot afford to pay.

Smith: [There is a] divergence of opinions within my own membership
[about whether or not to] leave that decision [to] the family. If you
admit students and they’re not successful and they can’t afford to
stay, then they end up having a very negative impression of your campus
that you admitted them for the wrong purpose. You funded them for one
year, and suddenly they have to make up the difference in some way.

This is why we’ve made a compromise on our support of this in our code of ethics.

Neuberger: That’s why you can’t change when you bring a student in
at a certain level of financial aid. That [level] has to remain
[constant].

Are institutions doing enough to promote and value diversity through student services?

Neuberger: Institutions by and large have very good intentions in
this area. They would like to reflect their student body with the
number of student services professionals that they have providing them
services. But I know as a dean myself, trying to recruit a good person
to provide the kind of services that we want is really tough. It’s
worse than trying to recruit students because there is a lot of
competition out there.

But they do value diversity, I think, by and large. How we provide
the services is a real mixed bag by virtue of the fact that we don’t
have that diverse a staff to provide those services. I’d encourage more
minorities to come into the field and to be a role model for these
students when they do get to campus. That’s one of the main retention
tools that they can have – someone on campus who the students can
relate to.

Dungy: We get back to that old adage, “Put your money where your
mouth is.” In many institutions, student services is where the
multi-cultural affairs office is. That’s one way they show they value
diversity – by saying that we understand there’s students on campus who
come from very different ethnic and racial backgrounds. Some students
feel alone and other students feel as if they need to come together
with people who are like them. [An institution] puts its money where
its mouth is when it has an office of multi-cultural affairs.

But it has to permeate throughout the campus. The president has to
talk about differences and how they will come together in a society –
and live and work together. That has to be in the curriculum, and the
curriculum has to be transformed. People have to understand that even
in a celebration in student activities, we have to be very cognizant of
all races and all ethnic groups at orientations.

I think you know whether you’re valuing diversity when you look
throughout the college and it doesn’t become an issue. I think we’re
working toward a point where diversity does not have to be an issue –
where it’s such a part of the culture that everybody feels that he or
she belongs.

Smith: But I don’t know if we’re there yet.

Dungy: No, I’m not saying we’re there yet.

COPYRIGHT 1997 Cox, Matthews & Associates



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