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National Poll Shows Strong Public Support for Affirmative Action, Diversity on College and University Campuses

Poll Endorses Key Findings of New Book By Civil Rights Project at Harvard University

Washington, D.C. - Americans for Fair Chance (AFC), a consortium of six of America's leading civil rights legal organizations today unveiled new research showing that two-thirds of Americans support affirmative action and recognize the value of diversity on college and university campuses.

The polling results were released today to coincide with the national release of Diversity Challenged: Evidence on the Impact of Affirmative Action, a new book by the Civil Rights Project at Harvard University. The book argues that when colleges and universities employ policies to create more racially and ethnically diverse student bodies, all students benefit from broader educational experiences and better preparation for careers in a multiracial democracy.

"Affirmative action programs are at an important crossroads, and it is critically important that we in the civil rights community join forces to emphasize the value of diversity in our communities," said AFC Executive Director Georgina Verdugo. "We released this poll today to show our support--and what we believe is the public's strong support--for the affirmative action policies called for in Diversity Challenged.

Sixty Four Percent of Americans Support Affirmative Action
The public opinion polling on behalf of AFC found that 64 percent of Americans support overall affirmative action for women and minorities. The survey also looked specifically at college admissions--one of the fiercest legal battlegrounds for affirmative action and the focus of Diversity Challenged. The poll found that 66 percent of Americans agree that college admissions criteria should include students' entire backgrounds as well as their tests and grades.

"Americans for a Fair Chance came to Capitol Hill today with the Civil Rights Project of Harvard University to ensure that those who will make key decisions about affirmative action's future understand that there is both strong public support for and clear educational value in diversity," Verdugo said.

New Book Shows Diversity Yields Educational Benefits

Diversity Challenged, edited by noted researcher Gary Orfield, forecasts that affirmative action's legal and political future may turn on a single question--whether or not the educational value of diversity is sufficiently compelling to justify consideration of race as a factor in admissions decisions at colleges and universities.

Diversity Challenged lends powerful new support for the proposition that diverse student communities yield substantial and otherwise unattainable educational benefits. This new book adds immeasurably to the debate on affirmative action and highlights the importance of diversity to quality education and good citizenship," said John Payton, a partner at Wilmer, Cutler & Pickering and lead counsel for the University of Michigan.

The University of Michigan is involved in two law suits--Grutter v. Bollinger and Gratz v. Bollinger--that center on the key question of whether diversity is a compelling interest to justify the use of race-conscious affirmative action in admissions. In Washington, Georgia, and other areas around the country, affirmative action programs are also under attack. Recent legal rulings have sent confusing and contradictory signals, suggesting that the Supreme Court will accept a challenge to affirmative action within the next two years.

"The research in Diversity Challenged shows that affirmative action policies have major benefits not only in overcoming the history of exclusion of minorities, but also in creating a richer educational experience for all students and injecting new ideas and understandings into discussions, debates and research on campus," said Gary Orfield, co-director of The Civil Rights Project at Harvard University.

Diversity Challenged Available

Copies of Diversity Challenged can be obtained from the Harvard Education Publishing Group.

Background

Americans for a Fair Chance is a consortium of six of America's leading civil rights legal organizations, including the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, National Asian Pacific American Legal Consortium, NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc., National Partnership for Women & Families, and the National Women's Law Center.

The Civil Rights Project at Harvard University (CRP) is an interdisciplinary initiative committed to mobilizing the resources of Harvard and the broader research community in support of the struggle for racial and ethnic justice. By building strong collaborations between researchers, community organizations, and policy makers, CRP hopes to raise the level of discourse on targeted issues and to reframe the tone and content of many of the current legal and political debates.

For More Information

Contact Paul Massey or Stephanie Blum at 202-739-0200