A new study found that diversity efforts at Michigan state universities have been stymied by the passage of Proposal 2, a 2006 ballot initiative that prohibits the consideration of race in college admissions.


Courtney D. Cogburn, an assistant professor of social work at Columbia University, and Liliana M. Garces, an assistant professor of higher education at Pennsylvania State University, interviewed 14 administrators responsible for campus diversity to see how the affirmative action ban influenced their inclusion efforts.

Those conversations yielded evidence that the Michigan law has had an adverse impact on campus diversity, the study concluded.

“We found that after the law, the very people who were supposed to be supporting students felt disempowered and that they could not talk about race or racism,” Garces said in a statement. “That’s problematic because the research shows that supporting racial diversity on campus requires active, sustained work on campus for students to be supported.’”

The study’s findings also showed that laws such as Proposal 2 can have a chilling effect on efforts that ensure the success of students of color, especially on campuses where they are clearly in the minority.

“That kind of environment requires support around facilitating conversations and facilitating a positive racial climate, and our findings show that that support can be undermined with laws that tell administrators they can’t look at race at all, even when that prohibition is limited to college admissions,’” Garces added.

In the article, “Beyond Declines in Student Body Diversity: How Campus-Level Administrators Understand a Prohibition on Race-Conscious Postsecondary Admissions Policies,” published in the American Education Research Journal, the authors suggest that “institutions operating in an anti–affirmative action context would benefit from proactive policies and practices that empower administrators in legally restrictive environments and support conversation and action that directly address the ways race continues to matter on college campuses.”

Michigan has long been ground zero in the affirmative action debate. Proposal 2, which Michigan voters supported 58 percent to 42 percent in the 2006 elections, was later invalidated by a federal appeals court, which cited the disadvantage posed to minorities. In April 2014, however, the U.S. Supreme Court reversed the lower court’s decision and upheld the state’s affirmative action ban. Since then, other lawsuits have been filed to overturn affirmative action, such as those filed against Harvard and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in November 2014.

The report looking at the impact of Michigan’s ban was published in the October issue of the American Educational Research Journal and may be accessed here.